Your Questions Answered: Modeling a Healthy Relationship

5 05 2010

Dear Jacque,

I can totally relate to a recent post about a needy 19 yr old daughter, but in a little different way. I haven’t been with my partner for four years, but I totally see this kind of neediness!! Instead of one 19 year old daughter, I have it double with a 9 year old son and an 11 year old daughter. They are both overwhelmingly needy. It baffles me at how not self sufficient they are. From my observations sometimes they are excited when we display affection towards one another and sometimes they fall into the whole I want a hug and a kiss too, in that awful whiny three year old voice! As I read this post I answered the questions that were posed at the beginning:

How close is your stepdaughter to her mother? I don’t see the relationship as close at all. They talk to their mother when she calls, on average that is twice a week and before my partner and I met is was less than that. They go on their visits to see her and they facebook with her. That is about it. Sometimes his daughter asks to call her mom and his son never does. Their conversations on average are between 3 to 10 minutes and nothing important is discussed. I bet she cant even tell you what they got on their last 5 progress reports.

How long was your stepdaughter the only female in her father’s house? From what I understand my stepdaughter has been the only female in her father’s house her entire life. The mom traveled for work and wasn’t affectionate at all. I have derived that because of the lack of affection between my partner and his ex he gave all of that love and physical affection to his children. I have even asked my partner and he agrees.

At what age did the divorce or death of her other parent happen? The divorce began when they were 8 and 10 and ended about seven months after that.

Is she well-adjusted overall or is she a troubled girl? Both children seem to be well adjusted. They are surrounded by my partners family, whom have been active participants in their lies since day one!!

My question is how do we teach his children what a real healthy loving relationship looks like and that he is allowed to love on me. Our relationship goes against everthing that they have ever known! It is not one kiss for me and one kiss for them. Like the book says: though the kids and the ex effect our relationship the relationship is between my partner and myself.

Dear Stepmom:

Thanks for a great question! Please see my second response to the needy stepdaughter here. Also, because your stepchildren’s mother is absent, read this post, too, where I speak more about what might be happening with your stepchildren because Mom is absent much of the time.

In your case, modeling a healthy relationship is exactly how you teach children what is normal and what is not. Children are sponges and they soak up what we DO much more than what we SAY. Because you’ve got stepkids who are used to being the primary emotional focus of their dad, you will be very threatening to the kids. They’ve already lost their mother. (EXTREMELY painful.) And you represent a threat to them. Here are a few things for you to try:

Keep the adult stuff to the adults. If your husband is confiding in his children. He needs to stop. Research has shown again and again that it is unhealthy for children to have too much responsibility too early. The amount of information they can handle is based on their age. That means at ages 9 and 11, he shouldn’t be telling them about his relationship troubles with you, or money issue he has with the ex, or his troubles at work, for instance. Kids who have been confidantes will get very angry about not being included. So see the next point.

Send constant messages of love. Dad needs to be telling his kids he loves them again and again. And showing them, too. By showing up at the soccer game or listening to their problems or playing a game of basketball in the driveway every night. When your stepchildren ask for kisses in a whiny voice, assure her that her father loves her. That way she won’t perceive you as a threat for long. Instead of staying silent in those moments say something like, “Honey, of course you’re daddy wants to give you a kiss. He’s your dad. He loves you, no matter what!”

Be honest about the changes. Kids need to be able to voice how difficult this is for them. Acknowledge that there are good and bad things about being in a stepfamily. And it’s NORMAL to have conflicting feelings.

Lay off the physical affection in the early years. Kids do have trouble watching their parent be physically affectionate with a new partner in the early years. So in the early days take it easy. (This does not mean you shouldn’t touch each other at all! Use common sense here.) But as your relationships grow and deepen they typically acclimate just fine. And in fact, the more you demonstrate over time that your marriage is strong, kids end up feeling safer because you’re showing them you’re not going anywhere.




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