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Stepparents, the Kids, Blending Families – and School

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Former School Counselor Pat Bubash Shares Her Unique Perspective

RemarriageWorks spoke with Pat Bubash, author of Successful Second Marriages and a now retired school counselor, to get the inside scoop on stepfamilies from a school counselor’s experience. Pat offers her perspective and some great insight into the challenges of blending a family and how she witnessed first-hand the impact on kids. She also offers some advice on what to expect, and what it may be like from the kids’ perspective.

How does being in a stepfamily make life a little different for students?

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my book. I had an open-door policy in my office. If I didn’t have something scheduled, my door was open. You get a lot of insight when people can just come in as needed. A lot of conversations over the years were with parents or kids or even grandparents when there was a remarriage.

It’s a difficult transition. It’s even difficult when the kid likes the stepparent because the composition of family life becomes different then. If the stepparent has children and they come over, those living in the house have to learn to share – their room, their time. I think that’s one area that has a big impact on kids, and when they find they have to share time with their parent.

There are so many factors involved that make blended marriage so difficult. One of the stories in my book is about one couple who in five years’ time, separated four times. Not because they didn’t love each other, but there were four kids among them and they drove them nuts. The kids didn’t want their parents to be married again – they were quite fine with how things were. Now the kids have moved on, and the couple is very happy.

What would prompt a student to come to you?

An advocate, an ear. I’ve always told kids this: even if they’re coming in to complain about a parent, what was said to me was between us. If they came to say they’re really mad at mom or didn’t like their stepmom or stepdad, it was safe. If they came in and said they were going to hurt somebody – that was different. Kids knew they could come in and tell me whatever was on their mind. It was safe with me and they could trust me. Then, it’s like any of us: you get something off your chest, and then you can go back and deal with it. I felt I had more of a rapport because I knew what it was like from my own experience. I think it made the relationship between my students and myself a closer one.

What would prompt parents to come to you?

Well, thinking I could – again – listen to their frustration and anger. I’ll give you an example. There were two kids, they were really great kids, in elementary school, and their dad was single. He was a very good dad, very involved. He was a lawyer, successful, and they lived with him full time. He met a woman who was a school counselor for their district. He was smitten with her. He’d been so super-involved with his kids, but he now needed time to woo this woman, and the kids’ behavior really changed. They became more difficult, not so pleasant and challenging with him. He came to the office, the only time he came in there, and he said how much he was in love with this woman. I said, “You may be, but it doesn’t mean they are, and you were there first for them.” It didn’t mean the kids were on board.

He was so involved with his kids and there for them, and then trying to have a relationship with this woman – he wasn’t even thinking how it affected them. He thought because he was so happy, everyone should be so happy. Your kids were there first. I tell parents, you are maybe forgetting they have a parent: the person you’re divorced from. They may not be your spouse, but they’re still their parent.

If parents took time to build a friendship first, they had a better chance. I was never quiet about the fact that I was a divorced person, which gives some credibility to what you’re talking about. I think that’s such a big problem with people who want to remarry, and more than half of people who divorce want to remarry. When they find someone again they think “finally” and they want everyone to be happy with that person, too.

It’s different for kids: it’s not their biological parent, and now they have to share you and your time – and sometimes your finances. It’s a lot of being willing to share everything, and I find teenagers are most unhappy about this and they’re in their own world and don’t want to be involved with what’s going on with their parents. They feel the focus should be on them. Little kids are easier: you go out play ball with them, and spend time with them, and they’re young enough to build that rapport. For teenagers, as far as they’re concerned, it’s “my world is the most important world right now.”

We all want somebody, but the kids were there first. And when you put them first, it’s to the detriment of a new relationship. I guess it’s like the couple who separated all those times… if you can wait it out until those kids are out of the house, it’s probably an easier transition and might even be better. Otherwise, it could be a lot of stress on your life. It’s not an easy thing; couples need to talk to a counselor, share the family dynamics and its composition. Understand how kids feel about it rather than how the adults feel about it.

Why would a grandparent approach school counselor?

There are times, more often than not, when their child divorces, especially if it’s a daughter-in-law involved and they don’t get to see the children as much, or even at all. Women are like this more than men: they are so angry at that ex-spouse, they remove their kids from the grandparents. Unfortunately, the grandparents get caught in the middle of it all. I love my mother-in-law – she was the best. I allowed my kids to spend time with her and love her. But that’s not the majority: the animosity, hurt - it’s one way to get back at your spouse by keeping them from those grandparents. It’s hard to recall that these grandparents were part of the kids’ life and need to continue to be. And grandparents need to understand that they need to stay out of that disagreement going on: they have to be uninvolved with what’s going on with the couple. Even with their own kids, they should not take sides. My mother-in-law managed to pull that off, but I know she felt I was the better parent.

I imagine school work is affected. What is your advice to a couple about to blend their family?

They need to not expect their kids to be as in love with this person as they are. And when children are involved, make sure you have family dinners together, but continue to let the biological parent have time with their own kids. If they want to go somewhere with them, don’t think you automatically have to become this family and share. If they only see their kids on weekends, give them time to do something together because they don’t get a lot of time. They need that time with their parent. I really think that’s important.

Don’t expect right off the bat that everything has to be done altogether, that everything has to be shared. I think that’s where resentment really gets built up. For kids not living with their biological parent, they really need that time with their parent. It builds up animosity when it’s not honored. They think the stepparent gets to see their parent all the time, while they’re their child and they don’t, and think ‘how fair is that?’

And when changes are being made, the parents should let the school know. Teachers know when kids are acting different and acting up. They’d come to me and ask me “What’s going on?” If there are any changes in family composition, let the school counselor know: it’s what they’re there for. Counselors are there to help – a resource.


Top 5 Reasons Why U.S. Presidents Have Neglected to Make National Stepfamily Day an Official Holiday

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hey, all you stepfamilies out there… do you have your plans set for National Stepfamily Day that’s coming up on September 16th?

So it’s not the most recognized holiday in the United States…yet. Sure, there’s a National Parents’ Day, which occurs annually on the fourth Sunday in July. Former President Bill Clinton signed the resolution into law not quite a decade ago, which Congress enthusiastically passed—unanimously, if you can believe that. That means at least parents in general are acknowledged.

But what about the, er, stepchild, of family-centric resolutions, one that acknowledges stepparenting?

That one, so far, has been overlooked, underappreciated, and possibly just plain ignored.

RemarriageWorks has put together its take on the top 5 reasons why presidents haven’t yet jumped on this one—a light, tongue-in-cheek look at politics as usual. Here we go:

Reason #5: Economists Haven’t Told Them about the Potential Economic Boost

According to a Pew Research Center survey that was done just last year, at least four in ten adults in the U.S. has at least one steprelative, be it parent, sibling or child. Now, imagine the economic boost to card companies, florists and bakeries across the country if there were only a National Stepfamily Day!

Reason #4: They Didn’t Like their Stepparent

This one may be a bit of a stretch but hey, if you’re President, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to—and that includes being nice to your stepparent. Though we’re sure all of our presidents who experienced the joys of a stepfamily would never think such a thing.

Reason #3: They Fear Offending the “Traditional” Constituency

America was built on good, old-fashioned traditional family values. Then along came stepfamilies… and no one knew quite what to do with them. The fear may be that, by acknowledging this brand of family, they may lose votes. We don’t want to be jaded—we’re just saying it’s a possibility.

Reason #2: They Don’t Realize How Many Voters They Could Get

Remember that Pew Research Center survey? Presidential candidates and incumbents, take note: there’s a whole group of folks out here who just may be swayed if shown a little holiday love in the form of National Stepfamily Day.

Reason #1: They Don’t Know Their History

If any president doesn’t fit in with that demographic of four in ten adults having a step-someone or other, then they need look no further than some very famous portraits on the walls of the White House.

For instance, George Washington married Martha and became stepdad to two children. Abraham Lincoln was a stepson.

So, if stepfamilies were good enough for George and Abe, they should get the acknowledgement they so richly deserve. We urge our leaders to elevate this platform to where it belongs: on a par with Thanksgiving… at the very least.

Let us know…

What is your take on why National Stepfamily Day has yet to take root?

IndyCar Driver Ed Carpenter Shares HIs Spin on Step- and Traditional Families

Friday, August 31, 2012

IndyCar Driver Ed Carpenter Shares His Spin on Step- and Traditional Families 

Ed Carpenter counts himself a lucky man. Not only does he get to do something he loves that’s both a hobby and his job—something he considers a “luxury” to be able to do—but he also gets to include his family.

Ed is an IndyCar Driver—his team’s car is number 20. Ed took time out of his busy preparations for the Grand Prix happening in Baltimore over Labor Day weekend to share his thoughts with RemarriageWorks.com on stepfamilies and traditional families.

“It’s different in other sports, but in racing, family can come along,” says Ed. Not that he gets to see them a lot while he’s working, but he and his wife Heather take comfort in the knowledge that their kids are seeing the country and learning new things while still being together as much as possible.

Other than balancing work and family life, Ed has a new challenge: his daughter Makenna’s newly budding social calendar. For Makenna, who turns five in October, sometimes a friend’s birthday party presents a conflict. Ed and Heather try to balance those types of activities with spending as much time together as possible while Ed is on the road traveling, which he does from March until generally the end of October. (Luckily for the Carpenters, the race season ends the end of September this year.)

In addition to Makenna, there’s Ryder who just turned three, and a third baby on the way. The Carpenter family resides in Indianapolis, and they feel fortunate that during race season in the month of May, the races are based in Indianapolis.

Ed is also from a stepfamily, and he can only see the benefits that a stepfamily provided him. In fact, he’s no longer a stepson. The man he has called his stepfather since the age of eight has been going through the process of formally adopting him. That man is Indy Racing League founder Tony George and someone that Ed obviously looks up to and greatly respects.

Ed credits his stepfather for how he handled entering the blended family dynamic as a stepfather and the mindset he brought. Ed has this advice for anyone considering remarriage: “What made it great was, my last name was different, but I never felt different. My advice is don’t do it unless you’re willing to care for a child who is not your own.”

When Ed’s mom remarried, Ed got a stepbrother, and later, a sister came along. He considered his mother’s remarriage a good thing for him, providing him with what he feels was a more normal environment.

For kids transitioning into a blended family, he offers this advice: “Respect your parents. Have faith in them, that they’ll make decisions that are good for your well-being.”

As for the family-friendly Grand Prix, Ed says that with a street race, there is always something going on, both off-track and on. “There’s a car on the track all the time.” It’s a chance for a family to have a fun outing and spend time together, getting caught up in the thrill of the event.

This is Ed’s first year owning his own team in association with Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka. We wish Ed and his team the best of luck in this year’s IndyCar Series. And, best wishes to Ed and his wife in their efforts to cultivate a close family environment that surmount the challenges of a traveling athlete. 


Spotlight on Stepdads

Friday, June 15, 2012

Spotlight on Stepdads:

An Interview with a former Stepchild, current Stepdad and StepGrandad…

In honor of Father’s Day here in the month of June, let’s give a round of applause for one of the most unsung heroes out there: stepdads.

I recently interviewed a stepdad who grew up as a stepchild and is now a stepgrandad. He’s a successful licensed family therapist specializing in stepfamily relations, and is RemarriageWorks’ very own advice columnist: Chuck Semich.

Today, I’d like to offer you some highlights from that interview, particularly Chuck’s top 3 pieces of advice for stepdads. These are some nuggets of wisdom that can help stepdads gain some insight into their own expectations that they may be bringing to their blended family and their experiences as a stepdad, as well as help their wives see what it’s like to be in a stepdad’s shoes.

Paula:

What are your top 3 pieces of advice for stepdads, such as new stepdads—newly  remarrieds, in particular?

Chuck:

I have some very strong opinions on that, from hard experience and learning—I hope—from my own mistakes!

I would say my top 3 pieces of advice are as follows:

1-    Let their mother do the parenting. Don’t try to change the rules or impose your own standards and values. If you don’t agree on how she’s handling things, make suggestions, not demands—and do it privately. Say something like, “You might want to try this…” or “Maybe this will work…” If she decides not to follow your advice, be graceful about it.

2-    This is extremely important: never force your wife to choose between you and the kids. That should always be a non-issue. She is a wife and a mother, and she should be free to function in both areas, in both roles, and never forced to make a choice.

3-    Work on your relationship with each of your wife’s children: spend time with them, take an interest in what they’re doing, ask them if there’s anything or any way you can be of help to them. Be a consultant, not a disciplinarian. Good relationships aren’t built overnight; they take a long time, even years.

Paula:

What if a family has kids that are a little older and they don’t want to have anything to do with the stepparent? What if the kids say no? Let time roll by and hope for the best, or are there things you can do in the background?

Chuck:

It’s a real challenge. I think at some point, the stepfather might want to make a statement to the kids and say something like, “I know we haven’t really hit it off, but I hope over time we can have a good relationship, and I’m here if you need anything.”

Also, be a very good husband to their mother. I notice that my stepchildren were really impressed with our relationship, they told me that many times. And I know that they felt good about the fact that someone really loved and took care of their mother. I think that’s important.

And of course, maybe you’ll never be real close or friends; it’s something you don’t really have a lot of control over. You can take the high ground and you don’t need to take it personally, even though it does hurt sometimes.

To hear the interview in its entirety, go to: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thestepmomstoolbox/2012/06/05/remarriageworks-top-secrets-of-stepfathers

 



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