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 ūüė¶

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!)

 

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Back to School

28 10 2008

Florida State University sociologist Kathryn Harker Tillman has published some disturbing information in the Social Science Research journal. She analyzed data from a nationally representative study of 11,000 U.S. adolescents in grades 7 through 12 and found that kids who live with stepsiblings or half-siblings do worse in school than those who live with full siblings only. Not only do these kids have lower grades, they also have more behavioral problems. And boys do slightly worse than girls. Interestingly, if kids have stepsiblings and half-siblings in the house, they fare a bit better than if they have only one or the other.
 
Tillman goes on to say that grades do not improve with time. “We cannot assume that over time, children will naturally adjust to the new roles and relationships that arise when families are blended,” Tillman said. “This research indicates that the effects of new stepsiblings or half siblings may actually become more negative over time or, at the least, remain consistently negative.”
 
This is scary stuff, ladies. There’s more. This is from the press release issued by Florida State University about the study: Tillman says: “Part of what makes stepfamily life difficult for young people is the complexity, ambiguity, and stress that come with having nontraditional siblings living in the same home. Stepsiblings who are living together may also engage in, or at least perceive, more competition for parental time, attention, and resources than full siblings.
¬†In addition to stressful life changes and ambiguous family roles, stepfamily formation leads to the introduction of a new parent-figure who may be less willing or able to invest in a child’s development and academic success. Stepparent-child relationships tend to be more conflict-ridden than relationships with biological parents, and stepparents tend to offer children less parental support, closeness, and supervision. The presence of a stepparent also generally leads to a decline in the amount of attention and supervision children receive from the biological parent with whom they live.¬†¬†

Furthermore, stepparents generally report feeling less of an obligation to provide financial support for stepchildren’s postsecondary education, and both biological parents and stepparents report actually providing less support for children’s education when they are living in a stepfamily.
Lower social and financial investments may signal to children a lack of parental interest and lower expectations for academic achievement and college attendance. In turn, youth in stepfamilies may be less likely to get academic assistance when needed, less likely to work for higher grades and more likely to act out at school.”

Wow. We live in an age where your education determines everything. Your income, the type of job you’ll be able to get, the neighborhood you live in, your social standing. Education is crucial. It’s a ticket to freedom of choice. If there is one thing I lobby for it’s education.
And yet I have to say when I read this it made me uncomfortable because as a stepparent, I certainly have been less involved with my stepkids’ education than I could be. Of course, there are reasons for that. Their mother is the one who is in charge of their education. I don’t feel like it’s my place to stick my nose in.
 
Still, could I be more active in making sure they understand the importance of school? Yes. Do I treat their education differently than I will treat my daughter’s when she’s old enough? Yes. Do I help them with their homework? Yes. Will I help pay for them to go to college? Not sure. It depends on our resources. Will I put my daughter through college? Yes. Is this fair? Hell no. Do I feel guilty? Yes. Will I lobby my husband and his ex to teach the kids the importance of going to college and even graduate school? Yes. Do I try to open their minds by teaching them the importance of learning? Yes. But I don’t feel like it’s my place to ride them about school as hard as I will certainly ride my own child.
 
This study has sparked heated debate among stepfamily professionals as you might imagine. And the emotions are hot in stepfamilies on this topic. It’s a ripe arena for anger and jealousy to brew. In a perfect world, all the kids in our house and the kids’ mom’s house would receive the same kind of education about education. They would have the same opportunities. But it’s not equal. It’s not the same. And that’s part of what makes stepfamily life so complicated.
 
As the beginning of the school year approaches, I’m going to reassess my approach to my stepchildren’s education. How can I be more involved? How can I make sure they feel supported? How can I pass on to them how important good grades are? What will you do this year to help your stepkids do better in school?