Your Questions Answered

28 10 2008

We have 50-50 custody of my stepdaughter, but every time the end of the week comes she begs her dad to let her stay. Since my stepdaughter is only 7 years old you can imagine how heartbreaking this is for her father. We recently found out that my stepdaughter’s mom and her husband fight in front of my stepson a lot. My husband wants to go for custody but I told him that wasn’t a good idea. Generally we have a good relationship with his ex and I think that would turn her against us. What do you think?

What a tough situation to be in! First of all, I agree with you. To go for custody of your stepson now would create an even more negative environment for the child. The fact is, unless you can prove that this woman is an unfit mother, the courts will most likely not rule in your favor. Moms are typically deemed unfit only if they are doing drugs or are in jail. And if you go for custody, Mom could take it out on her son by badmouthing Dad or by making it more difficult for you guys to see him. Since you have a good relationship with her right now, my advice is to be the nice guys. Since she’s having trouble with her marriage, offer to take your stepson more often. Then make the environment at your house as calm as possible. Give him a stable place where he feels like he’s safe. If he needs to talk about what is going on at his mom’s house, listen without judgment of her. If he senses you are going to blow up about what he tells you, he’ll stop talking about it to protect his mother. Finally, take him to see a child psychologist to help him talk about what’s going on and come up with coping strategies for when he’s at his mom’s house.

I have two stepkids, ages 10 and 8. They’re really sweet kids and generally we all get along pretty well. I’ve been married to their dad for a year. I’ve heard that kids have a transition day when they go back and forth between houses, but I think I get it worse than anyone. I am a total bitch on the days they arrive back at our house and I can’t seem to help myself. I dread it when they come back. What should I do?

¬†Transition day is tough on kids, but it’s hard for stepparents, too. You have to transition from having your partner all to yourself to sharing him with his children. You need to adjust from having a quiet, peaceful house to one filled with the noise and chaos kids bring with them. I can empathize! At our house, we created a ritual for nights when the kids arrive back from their mom’s. We each make our own pizza for dinner, then the kids get to take theirs downstairs to eat in front of a movie. It’s a treat for them, because they get to watch a movie and the cleaning up is minimal. And it’s a treat for me because I can ease back into stepfamily life slowly.

But sometimes even our ritual doesn’t work, and I descend into pure crankiness. On those nights I grab and book and retreat to my bedroom so the kids can spend time with their dad or I get out of the house so my mood doesn’t darken the entire night. I’ll go read in a coffee shop or see a girlfriend for dinner. Then I return to the house at bedtime so I can kiss everyone goodnight. My husband and I had very open discussions about transition night and how it affects all of us, so he doesn’t get mad if I need to escape for a bit. He knows that I’ll feel better in the morning and that’s better for the kids anyway.

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