Your Questions Answered: Stepgrandmother and Grandpa Not Allowed to Visit Grandchild

16 06 2010

I have a 23 year old stepdaughter who has a 2 year old daughter. She’s living with her boyfriend and they are a couple. However, my husband and I aren’t allowed to babysit and the only time we see our grandchild is when WE invite them to dinner. In which case I have to clean, prepare, shop, cook and clean up which leaves me NO time to visit. She has offered for us to take the baby for an hour or two but only once and that time she called and said that plans had changed. This whole thing has made me put her on IGNORE. I don’t call or invite them over anymore. I feel used for a free meal in reality. What should I do? My husband is passive. He has said it is his fault and he should talk to her but he never does. He just tiptoes around the issue.

Dear Stepmom:

It must be so hard for you to see your husband being hurt by his daughter again and again. It is awful to feel so taken advantage of and disrespected as you cook, clean, shop, etc. Without knowing why your stepdaughter acts the way she does, it’s hard to say what is going on in her mind. How long you’ve been in her life and how close she and her father are make a big difference. Usually when grandchildren are born, it can change things dramatically because stepchildren can finally appreciate that complexity of what it takes to be a parent and stepparent. But that doesn’t always happen. Here’s my gut response to your tough question:

Tell your husband to do the shopping/cooking/cleaning/ordering take-out. Your anger around cooking/cleaning/shopping is a big red flag to me. It means there is an easy fix! When your stepdaughter and her family come over, DON’T DO all those chores you’ve set up for yourself. Tell your husband to take charge even if it means he will order take-out and he won’t have the house exactly like you would have it for visitors. Then you won’t become a stepmarytr over the chores that your stepdaughter likely won’t notice anyway. And guess what that means? You’ll feel less resentful. This is good! Stepmothers get into this mess again and again and again and for very good reasons but please hear me now all you women who are doing, doing, doing. Ask yourself this: Can the doing be done in a different way so I don’t feel so burned out and pissed off?

Build bonds instead of barriers. Depending on the relationship your spouse has with his daughter, there is a very real chance that you won’t be involved in your stepgrandchild’s life if she doesn’t want you to be. Decide what your big-picture goal is as a couple. Then work to build bonds with both your stepdaughter and her child. To work around the emotional land minds so common in stepfamilies, you might try to focus on doing activities outside either of your homes. Meet them at a park or the zoo or some other kid friendly location that no one has to clean, for instance. Plus if you’re doing an activity like walking around a zoo, it’s easier to talk and mend fences.

Make it all about the baby. When you’re in hard co-parenting situation, most ex partners and stepparents will make all communications ONLY about the children. That way conversations tend to be less volatile and remain focused on the facts: grades, schedule, braces, doctor visits, etc. You might try using the same approach to co-grandparenting. Keep conversations low-key. How is the baby doing? What milestones has she hit? Wow, she’s so cute! I miss her so much. How are you feeling, new mommy?

Compliment your stepdaughter. Having a young toddler is stressful for women who are in their 30s who have full family support and financial freedom. For girls who have children at young ages out of wedlock, you’ve got a 10 on the stress-o-meter. Compliment her on her parenting and her choices about the hard work she’s doing. Offer to help. New moms have it tough in those early years and it’s hard for them to focus on anything besides the baby. That means many new moms offend people without meaning to because they’re so tired they can’t think.

Put Dad in center stage. The relationship with his daughter is your spouse’s responsibility first and foremost. He needs to decide what kind of relationship he will have with his daughter now that she’s an adult. It’s a stressful transition for a lot of parents/kids to make. At one time their relationship was a matter of necessity. Now it is a matter of choice. And both sides can choose not to continue to try to build something. That’s the sad truth. But remember my Dad’s sage advice: At the end of the day, your family are usually the only ones who show up at your funeral. (And yes, stepparents, you count as family.)

Guest Post: The Ex is an Ex for a Reason

13 10 2009

Today’s guest post is by Peggy Nolan. She’s a stepmom and the blogger responsible for The Stepmom’s Toolbox. But she’s also an ex-wife and biological mom. Visit her website during the month of October to meet the authors of some of the top stepfamily books. You can also listen to the conversation I had with Peggy on the Becoming a Stepmom podcast.

The Ex is an Ex For a Reason

By Peggy Nolan

I have an unhealthy need to ensure my daughters have a good relationship with their father, my exhusband.


I. Said. It.

This need has caused me grief from the time he and I divorced in 2003. I’m a daughter and I know what it’s like to have an amazing relationship with my dad. I also know what it’s like to believe that I wasn’t good enough and had to prove myself before my dad would love me. In my early 20’s I set out to conquer my world and become the best at everything I did.

It wasn’t until I got divorced and had my run in with breast cancer that I realized that my dad loves and approves of me. He always has. He always will. No matter what hair brained idea I come up with.

So it is within this warped dynamic that I view my daughters’ relationships with their father. A man hard to please. A man full of judgements and criticisms. A man who has a nasty streak as deep as the Grand Canyon. His bitterness runs deep. His words are his weapon of choice…and look out because if you’re in his way, he’ll slice and dice you and leave you with a gaping hole in your heart.

After our divorce, I healed my heart. I repaired myself. I learned “not to throw pearls at swine.” I found my own happiness and grew my own love story.

Today I know that I can no longer carry this unhealthy need to ensure that my daughters have a good relationship with their father. I have tried. Boy. Have. I. Tried. It’s like herding cats, nailing jell-o to a tree, squeezing blood from a turnip. It’s an exercise in futility and I’m tired of repeating it. Oh gosh, what’s that saying?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

That’s it! I’ve been INSANE!

In three weeks, my oldest daughter is getting married to her fine lad from Ireland. The Red Head (well, they both have red hair, but I’m talking about my daughter) tripped over herself when she announced her engagement via Facebook in May (while I was on vacation in the Turks and Caicos no less) and that did cause quite a rumbling between her father, her sister, and me. The Red Head originally wanted to get married on the beach in Lagos, Portugal – which I was more than ok with, if she could wait ten months. Words were said. Emails exchanged. Some not so nice, some even not so much nicer.

But The Red Head and I have something her father does not have with her – a relationship. And we both make deposits into this relationship. Our arguement withdrawal didn’t even dent want we had stored up in our mother-daughter account. We talked on the phone. We made peace. A week later, she called me and asked if it would be OK if she and my future son-in-law could get married when they came home in October. To say I was thrilled is an understatement.

In my excitement, I started planning her wedding. In doing so, I commited the worst offense imaginable – I tried to include my exhusband and his wife. In three months I sent three emails. I didn’t hear back from him and even asked my youngest daughter if he changed his email. She clued me in. He thought I just wanted his money.

I don’t give a rats pa-tootie about his money. It was the farthest thing from my mind. With him I’m either damned if I do or damned if I don’t. I’d rather DO and be damned.

This past Friday, I sent one last email giving him an update on the wedding plans. I stated that his silence was a bit confusing but it is what it is. I apologized if I offended him or his wife in any way.

His response is the old X that I remember so well. Mean. Nasty. He thinks the wedding is a joke. And that he’s giving The Red Head money instead of participating in something he thinks has been overblown. The money he gives her will come with hidden strings…it always has. I can only hope she searches deep within her soul before accepting his money.

As I sat with his email, sadness overwhelmed me. I am sad for my daughters. I am sad that they have such a bitter, negative, miserable father.

Sadness turned to anger. And I did the only thing I could think of. I put on my running shoes. Instead of walking or riding the bike like I normally do (because I’m fond of my knees), I flipped my iPod play list to Albannach and took off running. I’m not a runner, I don’t like running…but I had to transfer my anger somewhere and kickboxing isn’t until later tonight. There’s nothing like a rebel Scottish band, heavy on the drums, to trash your knees to.

I kept running. And running. My second lap around the duck pond, I started praying. I asked God how I could best help my daughter have a beautiful wedding day. I asked God how to deal with the knowledge that her father thinks her wedding is a joke. I asked God for an answer.

As I rounded the corner, I noticed I wasn’t alone on the path. A thirty something male dressed in black pants and a blue shirt was strolling along, most likely taking advantage of the gorgeous fall weather that was pretty much lost to me as I ran my heart out. I glanced over at him and he was talking to me. The drums of Albannach drowned out the sound of his voice. I took my right earpiece out, “What was that?” I asked.

“It’s a beautiful day for a run,” the stranger replied.

“Yes…yes it is,” I said, more than just a little out of breath.

“Temperature is just right and the sun is shinning,” the stranger went on.

“You are so right,” I said. I smiled and waved at him as I continued to jog past him.

And I smiled. A big smile. Because God answered me through a stranger.

It IS a beautiful day. Enjoy the moment!

It’s not my job to ensure that my daughters, who are now 25 and almost 22, have a good relationship with their father. I’ve done all that I can do. I don’t own his relationships with them or theirs with him. I am only responsible for the relationships I have with each of my daughters.

And both my daughters know that I love them without reservation. Without conditions. I love them for who they are and who they are becoming.

Interview with Stepmom Author Izzy Rose

29 04 2009

izzy-roseOn May 5, stepmom blogger Izzy Rose’s book The Package Deal will be available in bookstores nationwide. Read my interview with her below. Then visit her website to watch the book trailers and pre-order your copy. It’s a fantastic read that will make you want to invite Izzy to your house for drinks.

When you first started your blog Stepmother’s Milk,you were searching for support for stepmoms. Were you surprised at how little there was available?

I was surprised once I learned some of the statistics– that there  are something like 15 million stepmoms in the country today! I thought, if there are so many of us, why isn’t this a mainstream discussion? Why aren’t we on Oprah? Since then, I’ve watched in amazement as our online community has grown. We’re everywhere now! It seems like every day, I discover a new stepmom blog or stepparenting site. It’s very encouraging to see so many women reaching out to each other, connecting and offering advice.
Your book describes your first year as a stepmom. How have things changed since then?

I’m more relaxed. I no longer refer to myself as the Ruler of Cleanliness and Order. I just couldn’t keep that role up. I was outnumbered– a husband, two boys and two male kitties! In addition to adjusting to filth and fur, I’d moved across country, given up my career and left friends and family behind. Needless to say, I was a little on edge. Two years later, the newness and panic has worn off. This is a good thing– for everyone’s sake.
What three things do you think a new stepmom has to have to survive the first year of stepmotherhood?

  1. A surplus of wine
  2. A sense of humor
  3. Lots of therapy (with you and your man, alone, and maybe with the kids, although you might want to wait on the whole family combo deal until they unpack).

Do you still have full-time custody of the kids?

No, my oldest stepson, The Tall One, is the only kid living with us full-time now, and you’ll have to read the book to find out why.
What has been your greatest challenge as a stepmom?

Balancing my own needs with those of the kids. I’m sure every mother struggles with this, but because I married into my parenting role and don’t have kids of my own, I’m never quite sure how much I’m expected to give and compromise. To be honest, it was really tempting early on to shirk some responsibilities because I was “just the stepmom.” But, the reality is that if kids are living full-time under your care, you’re responsible. My stepmom rule is to compromise, but not sacrifice myself. I’m a big believer that if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else.

There’s been a large debate going on about stepmoms who blog or write books about their families and how it will affect their stepchildren and relationships with their husbands and the ex. How do you decide what you’re going to write about? Do you share your writing with everyone in your family?

I’ve made jokes about moving to Mexico or going into hiding once the book came out to avoid a family mob attack, but truthfully, I think the need for that is slim. In writing The Package Deal, I worked hard to be fair to everyone involved and I made drafts of the manuscript available for family members to read throughout my writing process, and I encouraged them to speak up if something felt wrong or icky.

That said, I’m very honest and I suppose you do run the risk of offending people when you expose your insides. But when you start self-editing to please the crowd, you lose your voice.

Have you ever had someone in your family object to or been hurt by something you’ve written?

Not that I’m aware of and I hope that’s because I’ve made a conscious effort to be respectful. Before I started my blog Stepmother’s Milk, I asked my stepkids if they would be okay with me writing personal stories about our family. It was really important to me that they be on board. Every step of the way, I’ve reminded the boys to come to me if there’s something they don’t want me to write about or if they’ve read something they don’t understand. I’m constantly mindful of their privacy and how far I can push the boundaries.
What have been your greatest rewards as a stepmom?

As someone who thought she was missing the mom-gene, it’s been a sweet reward to realize I’m capable of taking on someone else’s kids and not failing horribly at it. The boys showed me a reserve of love I didn’t know was there. I said yes to a marriage proposal and I ended up with a family. A pretty good deal, if you ask me.

If a dear friend told you she was marrying a man with kids what would you say?

Welcome to the club! Becoming a stepmom is so “in” right now. One might say– stepmom is the new black.
Do you think you made the right decision when you said yes to your husband, moved to Texas, and signed up to be a custodial stepmom?

Absolutely! I’m in love with my husband, Austin is a fantastic town and in addition to their entertainment value, the kids have helped me grow up. That said, I didn’t always feel that way. There were many days early on when I wanted to scream, WHAT WAS I THINKING! HOW DID I END UP RAISING ANOTHER WOMAN’S KIDS?  My therapist (and yes, every stepmom should have one) helped me realize that in order to survive, I had to adjust my expectations and be willing to reinvent myself. That’s powerful stuff. I remember thinking, OK, I can shift. I can do this.

What advice would you give to a stepmom who is struggling?

Seek out one good girlfriend who is willing to listen to you spill the good, the bad and the revolting. And then spill. I truly believe that laughing and groaning over our shared stories is one of the best antidotes for warding off insanity. It’s worked for me.

Conversation Starters: Do you want a baby?

6 01 2009

If you’re dating a man with kids from a previous marriage, don’t wait to talk about whether or not you’ll have a child together. The last thing you want to do is find out after the marriage certificate is signed that your new spouse has no intention of having any more kids when you’ve always dreamed of giving birth. (Believe me, girls. I’ve heard this sad story from more than one stepmom!) Make sure you know exactly where you both stand on the baby making issue. Spend an evening at home, spread out a tasty dinner, and uncork the wine. Then use this list of questions to get the discussion flowing:

  1. Do we want a baby? Why or why not?
  2. How do we think a new baby will affect our relationship as a couple?
  3. Will our stepchildren/children welcome a new half-sibling? What can we do to facilitate good feelings?
  4. Do we think a new baby will affect our relationship with the ex(es)?
  5. Do we think Stepmom will feel different about the new baby than she feels about her stepchildren? Is that okay?
  6. Will Stepmom’s child have to follow the same rules as Dad’s kids?
  7. How will we both feel if we can’t have, or decide not to have, a baby?
  8. Will you resent your stepchildren if you can’t or don’t have a baby?
  9. Do we make a good parenting team? If not, how can we become one?
  10. What if Dad has already had a vasectomy? Is he willing to have a reversal surgery? Can we afford it?

The Power of Guilt

15 12 2008

journaldmIn blended families, there are few things more powerful than guilt. It is the emotion that fuels many of the negative things that happen in stepfamilies. It is the reason that Dads become permissive parents and allow their children to run wild. It  is often one of the reasons Moms are combative and challenging to co-parent with. In 2003, the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage published a study called Divorced Mothers’ Guilt. The study found that the guilt they felt for putting their children through divorce often kept them stuck in one emotional place and unable to move on with their lives.

Anecdotally, I can attest to this just from listening to moms during interviews. I have always been curious about the moms who originally ask for the divorce and then act as though they are the victims or become vindictive or angry later when they weren’t at the time of the divorce. It could be the guilt talking.

And so for all of us, how do recover from guilt? How do biological and stepparents move on from feeling guilty about an affair, or a divorce or a remarriage? If anyone has some good ideas, please feel free to comment. In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts:

Say your sorry. Take the children out for one-on-one time and apologize. Call or e-mail your former spouse and tell them you are sorry for everything that happened. Marriage researcher John Gottman describes in his books how repair attempts can reduce conflict in relationships. If the breakup of the marriage happened because of an affair, leave defensiveness behind, own up to your responsibility and say your sorry.

Look to the future. Instead of remaining stuck in anger and guilt about what happened in the past, focus on your hopes for the future.

Remember we’re alone. Each of us has our own particular path to walk in this life. A divorce and remarriage will affect children for their rest of their lives, but at the end of the day they will have to deal with it on their own. Give them the tools they need to move through their emotions in a healthy way instead of letting them manipulate you with your guilt.

Let go of what doesn’t serve you. Guilt is really a useless feeling. It doesn’t move you anywhere, just keeps you stuck in the past. Wouldn’t you rather choose to let go of the guilt? Challenging things happen to children. How they respond to it can build their character and yours if you allow everyone to move on emotionally.

Be true to your inner truths. Guilt can strip biological parents of their core values. For instance, if a parent would typically believe that boundaries are good for kids but lets them all go because he feels guilty, he is not only depriving his children of the parenting they need, he is abandoning his own belief system. Seriously, guilt is that powerful.

So what do you feel guilty about? How does the guilt of your partner or the ex affect the dynamics between all the members of your blended family?

Remarriage causes stress for kids.

10 12 2008

Ladies, I’ve come across some research you have to know about. In fact there is so much in it that I will do several posts on the issues raised in the study. Stepfamily researcher and author Constance Ahrons published a study last year called Family Ties After Divorce: Long-Term Implications for Children in the journal Family Process. Click on the link if you’d like read the entire paper.

“Drawing on the data from the longitudinal Binuclear Family Study, 173 grown children were interviewed 20 years after their parents’ divorce. This article addresses two basic questions: (1) What impact does the relationship between parents have on their children 20 years after the divorce? and (2) When a parent remarries or cohabits, how does it impact a child’s sense of family?”

This passage struck me as particularly powerful because it relates directly to our role as stepmoms:

“Over the course of 20 years, most of the children experienced the remarriage of one or both parents, and one third of this sample remembered the remarriage as more stressful than the divorce. Of those who experienced the remarriage of both of their parents, two thirds reported that their father’s remarriage was more stressful than their mother’s.”

Two-thirds!!!!! This is deeply distressing. Why do these children find Stepmom and Dad’s marriage so stressful? And what can we stepmoms do to ease this transition not only for ourselves but for the children we take on in our remarriages?

Here are the findings Constance reports:

“When a parent remarries or cohabits, how does it impact a child’s sense of family? Twenty years after their parents’ divorce, most of the adult children had experienced the remarriage of at least one parent. Of the 89 families in this analysis, at least one remarriage occurred in 95% of them; 72% (n = 64) of the mothers and 87% (n = 77) of the fathers had remarried at least one time. In 64% (n = 56) of the families, both parents had remarried. In only 4 families had neither parent remarried. More fathers than mothers remarried, and they remarried more quickly after the divorce. In this sample, 24%, 60%, and 70% of the fathers had remarried at 1, 3, and 5 years postdivorce, whereas fewer mothers had remarried in each of the times, 12%, 38%, and 49%, respectively.

Remarriage represents another dramatic change in the divorced family’s reorganization, and children vary in their responses to this change. When asked whether the divorce or a parent’s remarriage was more difficult to cope with, more than half of the adult children reported that the divorce was most difficult, and approximately one third remembered the remarriage of one or more parents as creating more distress than the divorce. Of those who experienced the remarriage of both parents, two thirds reported that their father’s remarriage was more stressful than their mother’s.

The adult children’s reports of the impact of their father’s remarriage were associated with their reports of changes in father-child relationship quality. Specifically, those who reported that their father’s remarriage had a positive impact on their lives were more likely to report that their relationship with their father got better postdivorce compared with those who reported that their father’s remarriage had a neutral or negative impact on their lives. A disproportionately high number of those reporting that their relationships worsened with their fathers after divorce had experienced his remarriage within one year postdivorce (Ahrons & Tanner, 2003).

The majority of children in the study reported that at the time of the interview, they had good relationships with one or both of their stepparents. Most noted that this was not always the case in the beginning but that relationships had improved over time as they came to know their stepparents better. Some gender differences emerged, with two thirds reporting a close relationship with their stepfathers, and somewhat less than half felt close to their stepmothers. For those children who feel that their relationships with their stepparents were close, two thirds considered their stepfathers as parents, and somewhat fewer felt the same way about their stepmothers. The others, who felt close but did not consider their stepparents to be parents, describe their stepparents as friends or mentors. It is important to note that although there were some differences in their feelings toward their stepmothers versus their stepfathers, these differences were not related to the child’s gender. Boys and girls both viewed their stepparents in similar ways.

The age of the child, the personality match between a stepchild and stepparent, the relationship with each biological parent, and the amount of time spent with a stepfather are major factors that influence the role he takes in their lives. Because most mothers are still the primary residential parent, most stepfathers live with their stepchildren. Although some children who are close with their stepfathers have poor relationships with their biological fathers, others who have poor stepfather relationships are close with their biological fathers. Still others are able to maintain good relationships with both, and a small group of children have poor relationships with both.

The findings also show an association between relationships with their father and relationships with their father’s kin. When relationships with their fathers got worse over time, they reported poorer current relationships with their stepmother, her children (their stepsiblings), and their paternal grandparents. This was most salient when the father remarried shortly after divorce. Adult children who reported that their father’s remarriage had a positive effect on their lives also said that they had better relationships with their stepmothers, stepsiblings, and paternal grandparents. This is important because it relates to the long-term implications of the adult children’s sense of family after divorce. Because children have two sets of kin, whether and how they relate to them carries implications for the continuity of family relationships (Ahrons & Rodgers, 1989).”

So what does this mean in real terms? Clearly, helping to foster strong relationships between your stepchildren and their Dad is the most important action you can take. I will post separately about steps we can take on a daily basis to make sure that our families are the ones that have a positive effect on the children.

Taking Things Personally

28 10 2008

Stepfamily experts tell us to not take things our stepchildren say personally. Sounds easy, but when you’re listening to a stepkid shout that they hate you and wish you’d never met their dad, it’s next to impossible not to feel hurt. Try one of these tips for maintaining a cool head when you’re the target of a kid’s emotional pain.

1) Acts of kindness. Maintain a positive, supportive attitude instead of joining the child in a fight. Show empathy and kindness instead of anger. For instance, if a child shouts that you can’t tell her what to do when you ask her to pick up her room, instead of responding with anger, calmly tell her that she knows the house rules and she must abide by them. Make sure to include statements such as, “I know this must be hard for you to have two houses,” or “It’s a bummer that you have to follow the rules of our house and your mom’s, but someday you’ll get to make your own choices about how you live when you get your own apartment!”

2) Forget about it. When you’re hurt or outraged by something your stepkid said, it’s easy to replay the comment in your mind until your anger escalates into a grudge it’s hard to let go of. Try noticing the next time you allow your thoughts to increase your anger and instead consciously soothe yourself with positive self-talk, an outing with friends or an appointment with your massage therapist.

3) Practice self-confidence. If a child is being disrespectful, tell him you understand how he feels but that he is still not allowed to treat you poorly. Remember that you are influencing those children, and by demonstrating your own self-worth, you are teaching them something important.

4) Be gentle with yourself. Repeat this mantra whenever you are feeling attacked: “I am doing the best I can. I am doing the best I can.”

5) Imagine your stepchild’s life. Think about your own childhood. Did your parents divorce? Did you have to go back and forth between two homes? Did you have to listen to your parents badmouth each other? Were you a witness to violence or were you confused when your parents suddenly announced their divorce? Or are you from a happy home? Compare your upbringing with your stepchildren’s and see if you can find compassion for these people who are experiencing something that is painful, confusing, scary, and will change their very identities.