Your Questions Answered: First Family Blues

1 12 2009

My divorce is 15 years old. I’m on my second marriage since my divorce and I’m still not over #1. It’s more the first family ideal. I’m still jealous when the kids see him, and they do. My children are adults!!!!! I’m happily married, but still in mourning. Does anyone else have this problem?????? No one would guess, I’m a professional woman and appear to have it all together. YIKES!!!! I’m just sick of the pain!

Dear Reader:

Thank you for your honesty! This is a tough question because it’s about some deep rooted fantasies we all have. No one dreams of having a stepfamily or a second marriage when they are young. Society and our emotions tell us that we are supposed to want the perfect first family. Man and wife. Children. Until death do us part. The reality, of course, is FAR different than the fantasy. Very often we have a scenario in our minds that we wish could be. For remarried stepmoms like this brave reader, it can be the secret mourning of her first marriage. For stepmoms with no children of their own, it can be the secret mourning of the fact that they fell in love with a man who has kids. What you’re feeling is not unusual. You’re not a freak. You’re not alone. So then what, right? Here are a couple of ideas for you (and everyone reading this!)

Have a holiday plan.
This time of year is particularly hard on our fantasies. The holidays are when we’re supposed to celebrate our beloveds. We gather with our families and create traditions that give our family a sense of identity. These are the times when loving memories are made. It’s a lot harder to create loving memories when you’re schlepping kids all over town from one house to the other. And it can be pretty darn emotional to watch your children walk away from you and into their other parent’s house for the holiday. So have a holiday plan that will help you feel as supported and loved and yes, busy, as possible. Distract yourself. Instead of crying about what was, write a letter to each of your children (or stepchildren) about what they mean to you. Tell them what you’ve learned from them and what you hope your relationships will be.

Acknowledge your feelings and say goodbye.
Find some alone time and write down all the reasons that you wish your first family was back together. Then build a fire in your backyard or in the fireplace and say goodbye to that fantasy. Then make a list of all the reasons you love your current husband and your life together. Make a list of all the gifts your children have been given because they’re in stepfamilies. (Yes, there are gifts, too, m’ladies! As an adult child of divorce, I can attest to this fact.)

Create a behavior modification plan.
In my mid-twenties I lost 100 pounds. Yes, you read that right. When my parents divorced I turned to food, but when I hit my 20s I was able to turn things around for myself. (Read my book for more on that story). Even though most of my readers have not had to lose 100 pounds, I’m betting most of you have been on at least one diet in your lifetime. When you diet, you have to modify your behavior slowly but surely. Every time you want chocolate, you substitute something else to satisfy the craving. So. Every time you have thoughts of longing for your first family, jump on the treadmill and listen to REALLY LOUD music or call up a friend and go to a movie or organize your closet. If you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up, just keep at it and eventually you will change your thought patterns.

Spend lots of time with your current husband.
Plan things to look forward to with your current partner. For instance, plan a trip together that you both are excited about. Volunteer together at a local charity that makes you feel good. Take a class together so you both learn something new. The best antidote for holding on to the past is enjoying your present.





Your Questions Answered

12 11 2009

Hi Jacquelyn,

My name is Jeff. I am happily re-married to the most wonderful woman in the whole world. We have 5 (15, 13, 11, 7, and 5 years of age) children from my previous marriage, she had no children. Every other weekend the children come stay with us and once a week we go see them and it takes about 50 minutes to get to the children (one-way). My wife says she loves me and has no problems with me and our relationship. However, she is wanting to leave due to the ex-wife being in our lives. I have put forth great effort to minimize any contact with the ex and have been quite successful just dealing with the children. The children adore their stepmom and love her more than myself (which has been great) due to lack of the proper attention at home. She (stepmom) has been a source of security and stability for me and these 5 children. She is tired of the monotony and seeing 1/2 my pay check go to a woman who does nothing but sit in her chair, watch tv, talk on a cell phone, and then leave the kids a few times a week and spend money on herself. My wife is a hard worker and sharp as a tack. She is angry for letting herself get into this situation, angry because of the wasted money, and has quite frankly had it.

I am not a stepmom. I have read a couple of books and can see where she is coming from. Issues of how society treats her, how is she supposed to act, not being herself etc. I try to stand in her shoes, I have treated her like the queen she is. I help with the house, laundry, cooking etc… She gets flowers once a month, cards, notes, daily hugs n kisses, thank yous and appreciation. I love her more than anything in this world ( I am not saying I am perfect, though. I am male ;)). How can I help relieve her anger and frustration? I try to get her to focus on us / me rather than the ex and future issues. She seems to go through a cycle where we are doing great and then she is walking out the door. This cycle used to be monthly and has now been not as often, around every couple of months since the beginning of the year.

We have been to counseling that was superb.

She is tired and I am hurt because she is hurting.

Any suggestions?

Signed

Losing My Soulmate 😦

Dear Losing My Soulmate:

If only all stepmothers had a man as aware and engaged as you! (Sorry dads, but stepfamily life really asks dads to step up to the plate like never before.) It’s tough to know exactly how to advise you because I don’t know enough of your particular situation but here are a few general rules of thumb that you can share with your wife that will hopefully help alleviate some of the pressure you both feel.

Lighten up. I don’t mean to be flippant here. I really mean that. Have some fun! Since you don’t have the children all the time, go out and have some inexpensive fun. Laugh together. Create a list of activities that would interest both of you so you can build some really strong, wonderful memories together. Do this with all the kids, too. Create some fun rituals so that your stepfamily can begin to create an identity.

Hire a financial advisor or take a money class. We all know that with the economy the way it is, money is tighter than ever. Join a stepfamily and Dad’s money now goes to support two families. Though this is a tough concept for a stepmom, she really just has to accept that you are sending money to the other household. You are financially obligated to support your children. (She knows this I’m sure.) If mom is really not using the money on the kids then you always have the option of going back to court. (Though I would HIGHLY recommend mediation first because the courts rarely handle these cases intelligently, well, or fairly. Little rant there.) Check out these books for a place to start:  

For Richer Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples, by Ruth Hayden. A money class in a book that helps couples learn to view their financial lives as a partnership. Hayden doesn’t address stepfamilies specifically but her approach to dealing with money as a couple is fantastic.

Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage: Handling Delicate Financial Issues Intelligently and Lovingly, by Patricia Shiff Estes. A guide to financial systems, options, and solutions that work in remarried households as well as how to deal with the complicated emotions connected with the subject of money.

Create boundaries with the ex. It sounds like you’ve already set up the ways you two will handle your ex wife and that’s great. Sit down with your wife and brainstorm together ways you think you should handle the ex as a couple. The more you do the job of co-parenting, the better off your wife will be in the long run. If she is feeling jealous of the ex or angry at her for intruding on her family life, then tell her to write me a letter so I can help her by knowing more of the facts. It sounds like this is your wife’s biggest issue. Depending on what kind of ex you have, this can be a major stressor. Is she open to co-parenting? Or is she angry and bitter and in your faces? That makes a big difference in how things will go in your house.

Thank your lucky stars. The fact that your kids love her should make your wife jump for joy! There are so many families who are struggling because the kids are resentful of and angry at stepmom.

Chin up. You didn’t mention how long you’ve been remarried, but I want to toss this out there: The two of you are not going to figure out everything all at once. This is why that lighten up section is so important. Balance the icky parts of stepfamily life with fun times and lots of laughter and intimacy and you’ll be just fine. (If you’ve read my book then you know about John Gottman’s research: 5 positive interactions to every one negative interaction equals marital longevity and satisfaction!)

 





Your Questions Answered: Getting Started in a Stepfamily

12 11 2009

Dear Jacque,

I (26) am in a serious relationship with a girl (20) who has never been married or had kids. I have one of my own who is 5. We have recently been discussing a possible future together with kids and marriage. I have also never been married. My son’s mother and I found out she was pregnant after we had split up so marriage was never on the table. My ex has full custody, but I have him pretty much any weekend I want and for extended periods over the summer. My girlfriend expressed some serious concerns about her role as a stepmom to my son and how our future kids and my son would handle a blended family situation. She is also concerned about her role now, as my son’s dad’s girlfriend, and what amount of time spent with my son would be appropriate. I am ashamed to say that I did not have any good answers for any of these questions. Neither of us have any experience with blended family situations. Can you please give me some advice? I guess the main questions I would like addressed are the following:

*Should I segregate myself and my son from my girlfriend (while she is still just my girlfriend) when he visits? If not what level of involvment would be appropriate. How much of a say should my ex have in regards to this question?

*How is my future wife going to have any authority over my son. Is it ok if she derives this authority through me (for example: Don’t do this or your father will ground you.)?

*How should we handle jealousy that my son might have toward future kids?

Thank you very much, and any input would be extremely helpful and much appreciated.

These are all big questions! Bravo for searching out information on stepfamilies. That will serve you extremely well in the future. You and your girlfriend can do a few things to prepare so you have some idea what to expect. The first resource I would offer you is to sit down with your girlfriend and read my book together. It’s for women who are in her exact position: women who don’t have kids of their own who are dating, engaged or married to a man with kids from a previous relationship. You can read the first couple of chapters for free on my website. Check out the “Browse inside this book” on the right hand side of the page. I address a lot of the topics you are worried about.

It is absolutely okay to have your girlfriend meet your children if you are sure that this is serious with your girlfriend. If you are planning to marry her, it’s even more appropriate and in fact, important. It’s a mistake to introduce the kids to your significant other shortly before the wedding without giving everyone a chance to get to know each other.

Your ex wife does not have a say in who you introduce your son to when he’s with you. This is a hard pill for biological moms to swallow (and dads too, when the kids are with mom), but that is part of blended family life. You have to give up a certain amount of control when it comes to your kids. This is not easy!!!

As for your girlfriend’s authority, your instincts are right on. It all has to come through you. You set up the rules (see the house rules section of my book) with input from your partner and then you present them to your stepson along with the consequences for not following them. And then you tell your stepson that your partner has the authority from you to uphold those rules when you’re not around. It is a mistake to have her be a disciplinarian to your son right away until they develop a strong relationship. The bottom line is slow and steady wins the race. Take your time. Stepfamilies take a long time to feel comfortable and stable.

The jealousy issue is best handled by treating all of the children who live in the house the same. There will be things that a child will naturally feel jealousy about (a new child has more time with dad, for instance) and so the best thing to do is continue to spend time with the older children one-on-one and sending messages of love and acceptance.

You might also try these resources for more education about stepfamily life:

National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)
www.stepfamilies.info
A vast resource for stepfamilies, the National Stepfamily Resource Center develops educational programs for stepfamilies and the professionals who work with them. Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder, director of the Center for Children, Youth, and Families at Auburn oversees the NSRC, which serves as a clearinghouse of information for stepfamilies that links family science research on stepfamilies and best practices in work with couples and children in stepfamilies. The organization’s website includes links to resources for stepfamilies, frequently asked questions, and research summaries.

Stepfamily Living
http://www.stepfamilyliving.com
Stepfamily expert Elizabeth Einstein has created this site which lists her books, DVDs, and workshops for stepfamilies.

Successful Stepfamilies
www.successfulstepfamilies.com
Author, speaker, and marriage and family therapist Ron Deal’s site with books (including The Smart Stepmom), DVD programs, free articles, and links to support Christian stepfamilies. Includes a list of conferences and workshops for stepfamilies.





Dating a divorced man with kids?

15 12 2008

A vast majority of newly married couples report they did not have conversations about important topics such as money, sex or the number of children each person wants before the marriage license is signed. Part of the conflict that arises in the first few years of marriage comes from problems in these areas that were never discussed during the courtship stage of the relationship. If you are dating a man with children it is absolutely critical that the two of you put everything on the table long before you decide to move in together or tie the knot. The fact is, remarriages have a higher rate of failure than first marriages because the stressors that come with stepfamily dynamics can erode the marriage. The more armed you are with information, the better!

You can find many conversation starters in my book at the end of each chapter in the Discussion Topics for Two sections. I also came across a free teleseminar that you might find of interest:

Yvonne Kelly, founder of The Step and Blended Family Institute and David Steele, founder of The Relationship Coaching Institute are presenting a free teleseminar on Thursday, January 22, from 9-11 p.m. EST. Register at www.stepdating.ca to reserve your spot and they’ll send you a copy of the Stepdating Report.





What stepmoms can do for dads and their kids.

10 12 2008

Before you read this post, please read the research by Constance Ahrons that sparked this list. In my book and on this blog, I have said many times how important the relationship between your husband and his kids is. Not only because I value my own relationship with my father, but also because much research has been done on how negatively impacted children are when they don’t have their fathers in their lives.

So what can we do to help foster the relationship our partner has with his kids?

Encourage one-on-one time. When your stepchildren are visiting, suggest that your husband take each one of them out at a time for a walk, a visit to the park, a meal, so they can have time together.

Support involvement. If your stepkids have school events, games, or concerts tell your husband to attend them with or without you. I clearly remember looking for my father at my sports games and feeling such deep disappointment when he didn’t show and joy when he did.

Let him do the parenting. As a stepparent, you play second fiddle to the biological parent when it comes to discipline. If Dad is showing signs of becoming a permissive parent because he feels too guilty about what he’s done to his kids to parent them, then show him this post. He needs to parent his kids for them to feel loved and safe. Disneyland Dads are harmful to their children’s development. And as the stepmom, you shouldn’t be asked to discipline his kids. It’s not fair and it has the potential to ruin your relationship with the children.

Create traditions. Because stepfamilies take so long to feel like family (7 to 12 years according to researcher Patricia Papernow) do everything you can to build traditions that are just for your new family. One tradition my stepmother started that I deeply appreciated was a gift she made. Every year she put together a photo album of each of us kids with our dad. Though she was a part of those albums, too, she stayed in the background. By putting together those albums every year she was fostering my connection to my father.  

Let go of jealousy. Your stepchildren will have a relationship with their father until the day he dies. So think big picture here. That relationship will affect graduations, weddings, funerals, the birth of children, etc. etc. etc. If you’re really in this relationship for the long-term, then you simply can’t be jealous of the time he spends with his kids. If you have your whole lives together, then there is plenty of time for Dad to spend with you, any children you have together, and your stepkids.

Do you have things you do to support your partner’s relationship with his kid(s) that have worked well? Let us know what you do so the rest of us can try it!