Rochester, New York
Although Adam’s ex-wife doesn’t seem to be handling things well—and I can imagine how disruptive her texts are—this is also an issue between you and Adam, and there are several ways to make this situation work better. Some of them are practical, which I’ll get to in a minute. But others will require you both to talk about your expectations in this relationship.
While you want to be with Adam, you must understand that the person you’re in love with is somebody who has a family. He comes with his children, and his children come with their mother. There’s no such thing as Adam without them—that version of Adam simply doesn’t exist. And when a person who doesn’t have firsthand experience as a parent becomes romantically involved with a divorced parent, he or she can struggle to understand the parent’s experience and the directions he or she is pulled in, both emotionally and logistically.
It sounds like Adam is trying to please everyone and ends up feeling trapped. If he doesn’t respond to his ex’s calls for help with the kids, he might worry that they aren’t okay and that he’s neglecting their needs. But if he does respond, he might worry that he’s making you feel angry or unimportant. Ultimately, he responds not because he doesn’t care about your relationship, but because, like it or not, his kids are his priority.
If you can begin to really accept and ultimately embrace the reality that his kids come first without taking it personally, then you and Adam can sit down and figure out what can be done to improve the situation with their mother. One option might be for Adam and his ex to see a therapist who can help them navigate their co-parenting arrangement, creating parameters and offering tools for handling the kids when his ex is alone with them. If it turns out that even with these parameters and tools, she’s unable to care for the kids without calling for help, he can try to change the custody arrangement until she works out her own issues and feels capable of caring for them solo. But this would take time, involve conflict, and also mean that the kids would be more of a presence in your life—which brings me back to the package deal I mentioned earlier.
I think you should consider how you feel about Adam’s kids two and a half years into this relationship, because they aren’t going anywhere. How well do you know them? How much time have you spent with them? On the days that Adam has the kids, are you there, too, or does Adam spend that time alone with them? If you and Adam get married, these three kids will be your stepchildren, and my guess is that you don’t know them very well, because kids—like people of all ages—aren’t always “pleasant” and sometimes—again, like adults—“go out of control.” I imagine that they’re going through their own struggles related to the divorce—adjusting to two homes, to their mother’s less-than-stable situation, and also, don’t forget, to a woman in their dad’s life. They may be “on” when they’re around you, the way kids tend to be around people they don’t know well, but if you knew them on a deeper level, you might see more of a range of their internal experience, which probably has its ups and downs. Of course they’ll be different around their mom; naturally, they’ll find it easier to self-regulate in Adam’s calmer, more stable household. But they aren’t completely different people. After two and a half years, you’d have seen some less-than-pleasant behavior if you were making a concerted effort to integrate them into your life.