A Dad Seeks Help

9 03 2011

Reading through this blog has given me a lot to think about. I have a 4 year old daughter and am a single father. I have been dating someone for about a year and a half. I would like to give the father’s perspective on these situations. Its not easy for anyone when there is a broken home. I care and love my daughter till the end of the world. I want to make the correct decisions for her to live a happy life. Having a child with someone other than your significant other will put a strain on your relationship… My girlfriend has brought up some of the issues discussed her. How when she see’s my daughter it is just a constant reminder of my past relationship.. She has trouble being around my daughter and understanding what role she has.. So I came here to look for help. It has now come to a point where things may have to end. I have to keep my daughter’s best interest at heart, even if it means sacrificing what I love. I am not sure what to do and hope someone can help us.

I want my girlfriend to have a relationship with my daughter and know its OK that she has a voice. And we can discuss things together(privately) regarding parenting. Her word is a part of our relationship. However it does not mean I will always agree. I know my opinion may be biased but I believe my daughter is well disciplined and my girlfriend agrees with me. Although at times she does think that she needs more discipline at times, and I can see her point. But I have always disciplined her and she is well behaved.. she does have her moments.. as only toddler would. I take these things into consideration. I want our relationship to work.. I love her and need some advice. I really understand that she feels left out or an outsider when my daughter is around. I do my best to help her not feel that way. I do not allow my daughter to disrespect my girlfriend. This may all seemed jumbled together but I cant seem to find a solution here. I am not the type to throw in the towel and not really really try to work things out. But I feel selfish in doing so.. It pains me to think that my daughter will feel like an outsider when I have her every other week (50/50 custody). In a perfect world.. I want this to be our family. Different from the normal definition.. but this world is not perfect and I don’t want to give in. Its funny because even though I am leaving my name anonymous on this blog I still fear to be judged. I feel like my girlfriend doesn’t want to try to become a family with us. I feel like she just wants a relationship with me and to keep a relationship with my daughter almost non-existent. As if my daughter is a roommate. I know in my heart that cannot happen, I cannot allow for it to play out that way. I feel torn.. My only advice to myself is to seek help.. Couple counseling.. Maybe my woes seem selfish and I dont want to become like my father. I want my daughter to know that my home is our home.. and that she is always welcome. I put my daughter before myself and maybe its unrealistic to feel that my girlfriend should do the same. As many of you said its a balance. I need help finding my balance here. I always thought that the step mother or bonus parent should have a close relationship with the child or children. After reading this maybe I am wrong.. I don’t know I am rambling and it takes a lot for me to ask for help. Please be kind but more important please be honest.

WOW! Thanks to this Dad for being brave enough to post this comment on my blog. And another big thank you for showing the other side of the conversation so eloquently. Part of the work I do with stepmothers is to help women open up to all the other perspectives in the family. What is it like for Dad to be in this relationship with me? What is it like for the kids to be going back and forth between homes in which people who are relative strangers live? Sharing with each other how to feels to be in the stepfamily way is a normal and critical part of stepfamily development.

Research tells us that the most successful stepfamilies are those who not only share with each other their feelings but empathize with each other, too. This is challenging, there is no doubt about it. The feelings your girlfriend is having are all normal. I hope that she is out there looking for help, too. If she can understand that finding her role and learning to feel comfortable with your daughter are all normal parts of the adjustment to becoming a stepmother, it can make it easier to deal with them and move on.

You ask me to be honest: OF COURSE you feel like you want to protect your little girl. You’re a father. It’s your biological imperative to feel this way. And bravo to you for being committed to the health and well-being of your child. If only all fathers felt as you do.

It is a hard adjustment for a single women with no children of her own to go from zero to sixty with kids. My biggest advice is for both of you to read up on what stepfamily life is like so you know that the feelings you’re both having are NORMAL. They are part of the development of new stepfamily structures.

Will your relationship work out? It depends on how well the two of you can communicate. It depends on how well you can work through conflict. It depends on how committed you are to becoming partners. It’s natural for you to feel protective of your daughter. And it’s also crucial that you allow your girlfriend to feel a sense of partnership with you.

I could go on and on but I’ve written many things that can help you and your girlfriend. For more free information you can browse the free articles on this site or listen to my Stepmom Circles Podcast. My book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom has tons of information that’s suitable for all stepmothers or check out coaching with me if you want more in-depth and personalized help. Good luck!

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Guest Post: Carolyn Grona of The Grown Up Child

21 10 2009

Wondering what your stepchildren are going through? I am not only a stepmom–today I have my ADOC hat on. (That’s adult child of divorce for you ladies from intact families of origin.) and I came across this post that Carolyn Grona wrote on her blog The Grown Up Child. She nailed it. I invited Carolyn to talk with me for my Stepmom Circles podcast, too. She talks about what her experience was like as a rebellious teenage stepdaughter. So make sure to check it out for another perspective that can help you understand your stepkids.

Feeling Wanted

by Carolyn Grona

As a child of divorce I’ve lived my life with one enormous fear. The fear of not being wanted. It still haunts me. I’ve seen it haunt others. Like a monkey on our backs that lays dormant for a while but wakes up at the slightest hint of confirmation. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could shake it. I’ve even thought I had from time to time until something has triggered my fear and the monkey has raised it’s head from my shoulder. Whispering in my ear, “See? You were right. You weren’t wanted after all.”

I’ve always tended to be logical; a linear thinker. It always made me pretty good in math and not so good in the creative arts. And as a young kid, my logic went like this: If my parents no longer love each other and don’t want the life they created together, how could they possibly want me? Wasn’t I basically the sole representation of the life they had created and now wanted away from? If it’s children that turn couples into families and my family was broken, didn’t that mean I was too? And who wants a broken kid to lug around? I wouldn’t.

Of course my logic was never supported. My parents would tell me outright how much they loved me. How wanted I was. But that damn monkey wouldn’t go away. And a toxic script would run through my head at the slightest trigger. A missed phone call. A raised voice. A scowl. An off hand remark.

My internal dialogue would sound like this: They loved each other and created me. I am half of each of them. But now they don’t love each other, so how can they possibly love me? Maybe half of me. That I could understand; but never all of me. Not the parts that come from the other. But I can’t be split in two, I can only be one whole person. And if they can’t stand half of me, it’s not possible for them to love all of me. Maybe I can hide. But I can’t help being the constant reminder of the marriage they didn’t want. I can’t help always requiring an explanation. Wouldn’t their lives be easier if I just didn’t exist?

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s a scary thing. Worrying that the only two people in the world that are required by nature to love you, might not. Because if your own parents can’t love you, than who can? These are questions no child really wants the answers to but also wants answered most of all. And so the dance begins. Pushing and pulling. Testing and trusting. Seeing if they will hit their breaking point and admit what you’ve been so afraid of hearing and then feeling the flood of love and admiration when they don’t. This is what kids who are unsure of their relationships do.

But as I got older I did something else. And I’ve watched a lot of my ACOD friends do it too. I pulled back as most teenagers do. But I never really came back. A defensive action. My internal dialogue changing. It became: One day they might realize I was a mistake and get tired of being reminded of the union they severed. Tired of seeing their ex partner in me. And when that happens I’ll be ready. I won’t want them as much as they won’t want me. I can’t let them hurt me like that.

I’ve seen this so often and I did it too. Trivializing my parental relationships. Forming insignificant attachments with my most significant others. I had to be strong enough; indifferent enough. Because if it all came crashing down, that’s what would make it survivable. I thought of it as a preparedness measure. No different from stocking up on water and canned goods in case of emergency.

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s incredible how comforting the feeling of being wanted can be for a child. And how destabilizing the fear of losing that feeling is. The feeling becomes like the ground beneath your feet. One can focus on so much more when not preoccupied with the idea it might turn to quicksand. I’ve tried to build strong relationships all around me. Things I can point to and say, see? Look at all these people who love me, my parents would be crazy to not do the same. Also serving as, See? Look at all this support that I have. I’ll do just fine without them. A feeble attempt to firm up my ground.

In my adult life I have had times when I’ve felt close to my parents and times when I didn’t. Times when I’ve felt embraced by them and times when I’ve felt rejected. I still find myself distanced; struggling to trust. Even when the monkey is silent I find myself analyzing their reactions to me. Questioning the solidarity of our bond. And those are the moments the monkey loves.

He says “Be careful. They could destroy you. Remember when? Don’t give them the chance.”

Sometimes the monkey wins. I agree and I put up my front.

But sometimes the relationship wins and I tell the monkey to just shut up and go back to sleep. Maybe one day if he gets told that enough, he’ll get mad and move out all together.

What a liberating day that would be.





They Say it’s Her Birthday

22 04 2009

 Are you stepparenting a child whose mother has passed away? If so, you already know there is an embarrassing shortage of resources for you. Diane over at Mama J’s Parenting Posts is working on a book Stepparenting the Grieving Child. She wrote a fantastic post on the topic today on her blog. Check out the post: They Say it’s Her Birthday. Diane gives ideas about how you can honor your stepchildren’s mother’s birthday and the day of her death. Here’s an excerpt:

“April 24 comes around every year. It’s not like Leap Day; it never gets skipped on the calendar.

At least two anniversaries each year should not go without recognition in a grieving stepfamily: The deceased parent’s birth date and death date. Throughout the twelve years our stepfamily lived under the same roof, these two days were awkward for me, only slightly outdone by Mother’s Day (yeah, that’s coming up too).

In two days, my stepchildren will again remember their mother’s birthday. She would have been 49 this year. “

 





A Father Speaks

11 03 2009

Bill has three kids from a previous marriage. He sent in his list of things he needs from his wife and the stepmother of his children.

  • Understanding that sometimes the kids are going to have to come first.
  • I apologize for having an ex-wife.
  • Understanding that scheduling is going to be hell and it will be for years to come.
  • I think the father needs to be a buffer between the stepmother and the bio mother if that’s possible.
  • I understand frustration about bio mom but would appreciate it if you don’t make comments about her in front of the kids.
  • Thanks for being understanding about my relationship with my kids because I know you will never feel the same way I do about them.
  • Communication is very, very important.
  • Divorce is not an easy way out. Let’s work through this.




A Father Speaks

4 03 2009

I came across this essay a few days ago. It describes the pain one father feels when he is not allowed to be in the lives of his children. Hopefully I’ll remember this essay every time I’m mad at one of my stepkids. Check out John Doe’s blog Just Another Disenfranchised Father. (Used with permission.)

How to Talk to a Disenfranchised Father
by John Doe

“If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” -Lemony Snicket.

A disenfranchised father is an adequate father who has been unreasonably and unwillingly removed from his children’s life. By “adequate”, I mean a father like any other, a father who cares for his children, who sees himself as a valuable part of their upbringing and who has invested a significant part of his identity in his role in their lives. By “removed”, I mean that he no longer lives with his children, that he is reduced to a visitor in their lives or possibly prevented from seeing them altogether. He has no say in what happens to them. The mother works to keep him out, limits and controls their interactions, she likes it that way. To her, “the best interests of the child” are what she wants, period.

Many believe that the system is supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. That if such a father, loathed by his ex, can find no support in the courts, then there must be good and valid reason. These people are sorely mistaken. They have no understanding of the gaping holes in family law. By default they believe that the problem of absentee fathers must be the fault of the fathers themselves, single mothers are saints fighting the good fight against tragic odds and through no fault of their own.

A father who has gone through the worst of this may have “trust issues”. He has probably spent a lot of time among supposedly professional people who have examined him closely and found him wanting according to standards impossibly higher than those to which his ex is held (to which nor even should be held any typical parent). People he thought he could trust have lied to him, have given him false hope and have actively worked against him, only for him to realize too late and leaving him with only resentment.

He will have spent a lot of time in an environment where the only appropriate response is outrage and yet any sign of anger from him would have cost him dear. The stress may have been too much and he may have expressed that anger and then seen the satisfied looks of those who look for excuses to do their awful work. An angry word may have been enough, he didn’t need to actually get violent (although that would have produced all the more satisfaction and definitive result).

He may seem obsessed, only able to talk about one thing: the betrayal to which he has been subject. Alternatively, he may not want to talk about it, having learned that most people can’t take it, can’t accept the obvious pain he feels and melt away leaving him alone with it. “I’ve got my own problems, I can’t get involved with that”, or “I wish he’d just get over it”.

They wish he’d just get over the loss of his children.

He may be a strong enough person that it no longer shows at all. Until you dig a little, if you’re so inclined and if he is inclined to let you.

Sometimes, to lose a child like this, especially in the event of a complete lockout, is compared to the loss of a child to death. Not so. That would be what the philosophers call a category error. The circumstances and consequences are completely different. The death of a child is forever, it is final, it is by definition resolved even if the consequences are not, it must be survived, and those who are left behind must try to rebuild their lives without the dead child. Everyone with an ounce of humanity is sympathetic, tries to accomodate it.

Disenfranchisement, by contrast, is ambiguous. The child is not there, but is elsewhere. Many do not know if they should feel sympathy or not. They don’t think “there but for the grace of God go I” because they know they’re good parents, and there’s no risk and, after all, he must have done something wrong, mustn’t he? There is always hope, for those who have not had to spend years trying to maintain hope, even after years of no contact, because the child is not dead. If he does have contact, it may be difficult. He may have to run the gauntlet of the ex’s bile (as she pockets the child support check – you think she should thank him? That’s what the man says he owes her). He gets limited time, perhaps supervised, shoving down his feelings, to engage the child who would otherwise engage by default, whenever he or she was ready. How long do you think he should tolerate it? How long would you? Why should you have to tolerate anything? Why should he? Or his children?

The tiredest cliché a disenfranchised father will hear and keep hearing as long as he lets on what has happened: “Don’t worry, they’ll come back to you, just wait and see”. This is poor comfort for two reasons. First, it’s a statement of faith, not fact, and his faith has taken a severe beating. He may have believed in justice, the good motivations of psychologists, the objectiveness of court personnel. But the system that was supposed to prevent this, either did nothing of the sort or actively caused it. The society that touts the value of family life proves itself a deranged lunatic by doing nothing to preserve it. You want him to believe that his children will somehow absorb the importance of a father in their lives while not actually having one around to show them? That it should be somehow instinctive and one day they will wake up and realize this, tell their Machiavellian mother where to shove it and run back into his arms?

The other reason for this “wait and see” being bad advice is that it takes no account of the lost years. In advance, it shrugs them off and resigns to their being lost forever. Not just the normal security that the children should have as they grow in knowing that their father is there by their sides, but also the satisfaction and love that a father should feel in having his children near so he can watch over them and calm and keep them from their fears. All this is lost, not fully appreciated until it is gone, and only really by those who have lost it.

How do you talk to such a man? It depends, in part, on your own resources. How much of his anger are you willing to explore? That may seem odd, why should he get angry at you? Once you show some sympathy, you may find that his anger comes to the fore. He can’t get angry at the people who deserve it. They have power over him and his children. Show him some sympathy and he may let that anger show, not necessarily at you, but in front of you. Are you man or woman enough to take it? It’s difficult to express anger without offending someone, will you take it at face value or look for the deeper meaning he hasn’t the lucidity to express?

Grief? He surely feels grief, and surely you’re old enough and experienced enough by now to have been able to comfort the grieving and to have felt some yourself. But what if that grief goes on for years? What if it never really goes away but becomes a permanent wound that won’t heal? He can’t visit a gravesite, he can’t really mourn. What, after all, does he have to mourn but the loss of something that, however improbably, could come back any day? Every time you see him, you will be conscious of his pain, even if he isn’t. We all assess each other by what we know to have happened to each other.

One thing he may need more than anything else (besides his children) is validation. His self-image as a man and as a father has been under sustained and ongoing attack. Powerful people have either found him wanting or not found the spine to help him when they could (or should). The erosion on his sense of self worth is inevitable. All around are conflicting indicators of what he must do – shrug it off, take it like a man, grow a pair, don’t give up on them, do everything that you can, fight!, don’t fight!, never give up, build a new life, keep calling them, give it up. Whatever he does, it won’t be the right thing (and there’s no shortage of judges), but he has to do it anyway.

Perhaps the most meaningful thing you can say is: “what has happened to you is wrong”, it’d be nice if you believed it.





Your Questions Answered

28 10 2008

In general, I get along terrifically with my fiancé’s children, but their mother has boundary issues that cause problems. Whenever one of the children perceives that I am doing something that their mother did before or still does now (sorting objects at our home for garage sale, making birthday cakes, sewing a jacket, snuggling in front of a movie or fixing their hair for an event), they will tell her about it casually in their daily phone call, then she calls my fiancé and complains to him. Sometimes she even tells the children that they should feel uncomfortable about it (we used to snuggle all the time, but now seldom do). My fiancé has told her that she’s crossing a boundary and that I’m not trying to replace her-just running our home and loving them-but how do we handle this one with the children? The mother (who wanted the divorce in the first place) can’t seem to make the transition appropriately. And I can’t imagine telling the children not to say anything to their mom. That seems wrong. Is this something we just have to wait out?  

Your instincts to not talk to the children about their mother are right on. If you did talk about her to them, your relationships would get messy fast because the kids will be forced to be in the middle and will certainly feel loyal to their mother. The best thing you can do is continue to show them affection while sending positive messages to the kids about their mother every time they bring something up. (This is difficult!!)
 
Meanwhile, your fiancé is doing the right thing by continually talking to his ex about how this hurts the kids. She is actually going to damage her children by not allowing them to have a relationship with their father and making them feel guilty about liking you. Sometimes this kind of behavior goes away as time passes and the ex feels more comfortable and less jealous. Sometimes it does not. Hopefully she will understand that as their mother it doesn’t matter what else happens in her children’s lives, she will always be their mother. Perhaps this could be a soothing message from Dad to his ex.
 
If there is a way to slip Mom information, there is a wonderful book that tells how this kind of thing affects children: Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt. If you do feel you need to address Mom’s behavior at some point with the kids, it absolutely has to come from Dad. Not you. As the outsider, you will get blamed. This is certainly a challenging situation. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Just keep to the high road and hopefully she will come around. Keep in mind that ultimately it will be the children who will have to deal with the dynamics in the family. They will decide for themselves what is true, and your generous and loving actions may speak to them louder than their mother’s insecurity. Good luck!





Advice for Bio Parents: Honor Your Kids’ Stepparent

28 10 2008

Pass this on to your spouse, or if you have biological children, try these exercises on your partner.

1) Offer a compliment a day. Practice showing your spouse your gratitude every single day with a compliment or a message of thanks. Make a mark on your calendar on all the days you remember to show appreciation to your partner. If compliments don’t come easy to you, practicing them will help you become more comfortable. And the smile on your partner’s face will inspire you to continue. Here are some ideas to get you started: “Thank you so much for helping Tommy with his homework.” “I really appreciate all the work you do for our family.” “I know this can be frustrating, but I am so thankful you’re willing to talk about this.” “Wow, thank you!”

2) Give her a shout out. Honor your partner in front of the kids so you are modeling to them that this person is important in your life and makes you happy. This will help you and your spouse maintain a united front to the children, and will set up a clear message to the kids that the stepparent is here to stay and is completely supported by their birth parent.

3) Send a message of thanks. Every night before you go to bed, write down or simply think of three reasons you’re grateful for your partner’s presence in your life.

4) Include her in the decision-making. We stepmoms all know that as the biological parent, you have the final say in the raising of your children. However, making a stepmom feel included in the household isn’t that hard to do. Simply listen to what she has to say, discuss the pros and cons with each other and work out a solution together as a team. She’s volunteered to join your family; now help her feel like she’s welcome.

5) Carve out alone time. Every stepparent needs alone time with their spouse. Make time each week that just the two of you can be together without his kids or her kids so you can continue to nurture your partnership. Each biological parent also needs time alone with their children so each individual relationship within your family unit receives the time and attention it needs to flourish.