Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: I love my stepkids, but they tire me out

On this week's podcast, Viv discusses what to do when you face the prospect of keeping a secret from the man you are going to marry, and when the shock of becoming a stepmother gets too much

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

I have been with my boyfriend for over three years and in that time I have lived with him in his family home with his mother for six months.

I made the decision to move out as I could not cope with his mother, in my opinion, falsely claiming disability allowance.

This woman will be my mother-in-law some day, as myself and my boyfriend plan to buy our first home together soon and marry in the relatively near future.

Within the time I lived there I was a student, so spent a significant amount of time in the home during the week. She was on a high level of disability allowance but I never knew specifically why.

I saw her life as lazy and indulgent. Yes she had to take regular prescribed pain relief medication. But I also saw her regularly going to the gym, gardening - painting her fence. Going on multiple holidays, and watching hours upon hours of TV per day.

I witnessed on a weekly basis her "carer" coming over with her toddler and the two women lounging on the sofa. Along with my future mother in law running round chasing and playing with the child. This part particularly annoyed me as I was working in retail for low minimum wage due to my age and this carer was being paid a large amount of money to socialize and be given free childcare by my mother-in-law.

I come from a hard working family, with my own mother working through several recent years of poor physical health and long term physical limitations. This made the situation even more emotive for me. In part frustration and part moral conscience, I anonymously reported my boyfriend’s mother.

Six months passed and the council turned up on her door with evidence of fraud.  They had been filming her life and had launched an investigation.

Six more months have passed and today I have found out her benefits will be stopped, meaning she will have to get a job for the first time in nearly a decade.

I am happy about the decision as I feel benefits should go to the most vulnerable people in our society. However I have caused this family lots of stress and upset. And I am not proud of this.

My mother in law is a poor manager of money, spends extravagantly and has very little savings so she will have to adjust her lifestyle.

Now my boyfriend who lives at home and is desperately saving as much as possible in order to buy a house, is left to sort out the mess and will likely have to contribute even more money to the household bills.

My question to you Viv is should I ever tell my boyfriend what I have done? I feel guilt free about my decision and wouldn't take it back. I witnessed a clear manipulation of our benefit system. My future mother in law was lying about her capabilities plain and simple. But I know deep down it was my helpless emotions about my own mothers illness which made me make the claim.

I feel that my boyfriend will take it as a betrayal, to him and his family. And I honestly wouldn't blame him for wanting to protect his family.

I don't feel a need to tell him but I am aware that this is the one and only secret between us. Looking forward, should I tell him before we get married?

I don't want to let his mother come between us, but it's not hard to imagine that happening and ending our future together.

Thank you for reading.
Hopeful Future Daughter in Law.

Wow. What an extraordinary situation. Thank you for having the courage to write in and share your story. The morality of all this is extremely complex and if you are going to have a relationship with this man -- and therefore also his mother -- this is something that you are going to have to sort out privately in your own mind so that you can live with this. You know this already. I am going to take your question at face value because you wrote in with one question and one question only: Should you tell your boyfriend what you have done? Only you can answer this question. Only you can know whether you can live with the guilt of having a secret. And only you can know if your boyfriend would take it so badly that it would ruin your relationship. The situation is complicated by the fact that you think two contradictory things simultaneously. On the one hand, you think you were justified in reporting your future mother in law. On the other hand, you have enough self-awareness to know that your actions were partly motivated by sympathy for your own mother’s situation. The whole thing is tragic, really, and I really feel for you. 

Can you live with yourself without telling your boyfriend? I think if you can, this is certainly the easiest course of action. Hopefully your mother in law will find a way through and get back into work and perhaps soon all this will be forgotten. The other course of action -- telling him the truth -- exposes you to a huge amount of uncertainty. He may not understand what you did at all. He may understand it but still be very angry. He may feel that he is obliged to tell his mother (and he would be well within his rights to do that) and then you would have to face not only his anger but also hers. Are you ready for that? Are you ready for them both to tell other people about it and for people to start taking sides? Because that is what will happen.

In short, you have unleashed Pandora’s Box by filing this report. Now you have the opportunity to shut the box again by keeping this secret to yourself. I’m not sure either course of action is noble or wise. It’s an impossible choice. I do think, though, that you’ve beat yourself up about all this enough already and spent enough time thinking about it. What’s done is done and cannot be undone. Now you must think about yourself and decide to do the thing that makes your future bearable for you. Try and imagine each scenario in your head. You tell him. The fallout is awful. But how do you feel? Relieved? Absolved? Or you don’t tell him. And the guilt of the secret is awful. How do you feel? Secretly relieved that you don’t have to tell? Capable of remaining strong enough to stay silent? Think about all these things and go with your gut instinct. That is the only way.

You can hear the answers to this and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

I'm in a relationship with a man with two lovely children, aged 3 and 5. We have only been together a year but him having children made us have very serious conversations about where the relationship was potentially going pretty much on week 1. I moved in a few months ago and we're both committed to making things work as a family. We have the kids every other weekend and every Wednesday night. They love me (no really they actually do! I wasn't expecting that part to be the easy part!) and I love them.

We're still figuring out how it all works. We have misunderstandings where we both have to learn where the other is coming from. For example, while I love the kids I do find them quite tiring. I'm not good at multitasking and they demand my attention pretty much every minute they are awake. Which mostly I have the energy for and enjoy, but if I'm tired, sometimes I have half an hour or so when I'm less receptive and encourage them to go and play together rather than with me. I suppose I'm grumpy. I'm not mean to them, but my man sees that I'm irritable and takes it personally, thinking that I don't actualy like the kids, during these irritable moments. I do, I just want to be left alone for a bit while I recharge!

He is great at listening to me and learning that things are different from a non-biological parent's experience. I hope I am as good too. That's what makes me think we can make this work. What is worrying me is that each time we have a misunderstanding about the kids, how much it hurts. We talk, we resolve, he's over it, I'm not over it. I seem to be so sensitive. It's like getting my heart broken a little bit, every few weeks. It's hard to have your partner suddenly defend someone else against you, even if it turns out to be a misunderstanding about cheese on toast; to have someone else that comes above you and be accused of being the baddie in the film - I expect to be the trusty sidekick in the movie of our relationship.

My question is, is this a sign that it's not a good idea to be attempting this relationship? I love him dearly and we're both willing to put in the work, but is it normal to hurt quite so much? For years I have put myself first and engineered my life to avoid any kind of stress, hurt or distress. Now I have something I care so much about, is it just the shock of what emotions are?!

Lots of love,
Irritable New Stepmum

These questions have been edited for length. 

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

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