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Attending Children’s Sport Activities… When the Ex is There

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Keep it Classy with these 3 Tips

If you have children and/or stepchildren, chances are they are enrolled in some sort of sports activity.  Football games, soccer matches, swimming lessons… chances are also good that someone’s ex will also be in attendance.

The atmosphere can turn from one of light-hearted fun and the joy of seeing the kids learning new skills, to one that is awkward, uncomfortable—and sometimes even downright hostile. 

If you’re not careful, there can be more offense and defense going on along the sidelines than what’s happening on the field, and this is something to avoid for your sake and most especially for the kids.

How do you handle this and keep your dignity intact, without avoiding going to activities altogether?  Here are 3 tips for attending sports activities, with dignity and class:

Tip 1: Plan for Selective Avoidance

If you and your ex don’t get along, or you don’t get along with your ex’s new partner, it doesn’t mean you have to avoid attending the kids’ sports activities altogether.

Instead, practice selective avoidance.  If you get to the location early, claim a spot and more than likely, the ex will avoid you.  If you arrive after the ex, then select a spot that is comfortably out of their view.  Either choose the same side and go to the opposite end from where they are, or one of the two sides that end-cap the activity space, where you’d have to crane your necks to see each other. 

For example, any square or rectangular field has four sides from which to choose.  Or, if there is only one set of bleachers, there are two ends to them.  There are plenty of opportunities for blending in comfortably.

Avoid going directly across the way from the ex, as it’s human nature to look to see if someone else is looking at us, and when we catch them looking, to continue to look back to see if they’re still looking. Yes, it sounds childish, but that’s the result of not having a game plan for how to handle such a situation.

Tip 2: Keep Communication Neutral

A child’s practice or game is not the place to discuss financial issues or anything else that is a potentially hot topic.  Kids are always on high alert when they sense there may be trouble, especially with their parents and stepparents, and it will distract them from what they should be focusing on: their sports activity.

If there’s something you need to discuss with your ex or your partner’s ex, ask to set up a time to talk by phone at a later time.

Tip 3: Remember Who You Came to See

It can be tempting to take advantage of being in a crowd: you know things probably won’t become overheated because there are witnesses and the ex probably won’t do anything to embarrass themselves.

But there is a time and a place, and a kid’s activity is neither of those.  Remember that you came to relax and watch your child or stepchild engage in an activity, and you are there to support them.  By focusing on the child and not the ex, you can make sure you stay on point, which is supporting the kids.  Keep in mind that kids depend on adults to act like they’re on the same team.


Relieve Blended Family Parental Stress

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Remarried Couples Need to Make Frequent Use of THIS

You’re the proud co-parent of a blended family. Do you find yourself asking where the rewards are?

Not every day is a headache. Like any child-rearing experience, whether it’s for biological, adopted or blended, it’s all the same: some days are good, others you wonder why you ever got out of bed.

Raising kids is stressful, and anyone with a child or stepchild can relate to that.

When you blend a family, the challenges can be even greater. Different rules, different ways of doing things, and emotional ups and downs can all lead to the perfect environment for clashes.

And the remarried couple in all of this? They often find themselves running just to keep up, let alone find balance and time for themselves.

But it’s imperative that remarried couples make time for each other in all of this—something that all parents struggle with. But considering that divorce rates are higher for second marriages, it would seem all the more reason for taking time to nurture your relationship.

After all, a blended family does present unique challenges in that, often, there are also ex-spouses that may or may not be supportive of your new union, and this can add another layer of stress onto a situation that already has the makings for a fine drama.

So what’s the remarried couple to do to alleviate some of their stress?

Make use of this stress-reducing strategy: have frequent date nights.

Just because you get remarried doesn’t mean you both needed to put away your party clothes and dancing shoes. Think of couples when they’re dating: they spend time together, usually alone, doing activities and getting to know each other.

In addition, they are forging a bond through the sharing of experiences, which serves to pull them closer together.

Remarrieds need to remember to continue that tradition. One of the things that often drives married couples apart, whether first-time or remarried, is they simply grow apart. Growing apart happens when you don’t invest the time in each other and get caught up with just trying to keep the family going.

You don’t have to do extravagant dates. It could be as simple as picking one activity to do each week as a couple, whether that’s taking a long walk together or meeting up midday for a coffee date. 

Before you step away from this article, call your significant other right now and ask them out on a date—for this week. Tell them it’s your new stress-relieving strategy.

Let us know…

On a scale of 1 to 10, how stressful would you rate having a blended family to be, with 1 being no stress and 10 more stress than the President has on his hands?

 

As a remarried person, do you feel that dating is important for your relationship to thrive?


Stress-Free, Drama-Free Homework Zone

Friday, September 14, 2012

3 Tips for Coping with the Dual-Household Dilemma

“But, at my other house I get to…”

Is there a more dreaded argument from a child than the old comparison standby of how everyone else in the whole entire world does things and so we-should-too?

It’s one thing to hear how “all the other kids” do things in their homes, and quite another to have your house rules stacked up against those of the other custodial parent—especially with how homework is handled.

With kids back in school now, homework wars are common enough in any home, but the challenge for blended families are the possibly two different sets of rules governing how and when homework should be done.

Maybe in your home, you feel that homework should be done right after school, or early in the morning on weekends. But in your child’s other living space, the rules are lax and the approach is “when you get to it.”

This can be confusing for kids, who first of all want to find a way to put off the inevitable. Have you ever heard a child argue for doing homework sooner rather than later?

Regardless of how many days your child or stepchild lives under your roof, you have a right to set up rules governing what goes on there in the way you see fit.

Here are some tips for coping with the dual-household dilemma—and avoiding homework drama:

Tip #1: Talk with the other Parent

In a perfect world, there would be one set of rules for your child, no matter where they lay their head. But this isn’t always the case. You can try to talk to your ex-spouse or the biological parent to see if it’s possible to create one set of rules. If not, it’s not worth getting upset over—and at least you know what you have to work with.

Tip #2: Your Rules are the Rules

If the rules are different under the two different roofs, any kid worth their salt will try the comparison trick if the other rules favor the put-it-off approach—it’s their birthright. That’s okay: it’s kids being kids. But, your house, your rules, and you aren’t obligated to do things the exact same way as the other household. Explain that you can appreciate how different people do things differently, but in your home, this is how it’s done.

Tip #3: Allow Child Input

Coming on the heels of that last tip, you can help the child feel some sense of control or at least have a say in rule-making by asking for their input on some aspect of the homework rule. For example, with younger children, you can state what the homework rules are, but they get to choose whether they have a snack before, during or after a homework session. For older kids, they could be given a choice of where to do their homework: in their room, at the dining room table, or some other designated space.

Negotiations are part of the family experience, regardless of the family being traditional or blended. The art of firmness with some degree of compromise works well in any situation. 


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?

New Stepdads and their Role in the Blended Family

Friday, August 10, 2012

New Stepdads and their Role in the Blended Family

A Candid Look at Expectations, Growth Pains and Success

By Craig Gaspard 

I’ll have to admit that when I became a stepfather, the day I married my wife Terry – in May of 1997 – I really had no idea what I was getting into. I was a stepfather (briefly) for three years in my first marriage. But, I was never a father before, and at the ripe “young” age of 42, I was thinking that I was somehow going to “get by” and become accepted, primarily because I had married their mother. I was in for an awakening, not “rude” mind you but eye-opening nonetheless.

In my mind, “get[ting] by” was being nice, not making waves or expecting too much of Sean, who had just turned 13, and Tracy who was soon going to be 11. But as the weeks turned into months, the challenges of the role became more apparent. Comments like “you’re not my father” served as challenges to any authority I tried to impose, even as innocently as “could you please put this [or that] away.”

For about three years, our newly formed family went through some growing pains that included having our own child Catherine, who, in the beginning, was seen as a threat to take away their mother’s attention.  Holidays, vacations and birthdays seemed to be about one-upmanship. But, even before those three years were up, some helpful changes occurred that helped.

Different from a biological parent, a major thrust of being a stepparent I’ve learned is to be a friend on some level. Not like a school friend, but an adult friend more akin to being a guidance counselor. Inviting my stepson not only to go on summer vacations, but to also share my love of fishing with him helped in the friendship process. It was more challenging to be a friend to my stepdaughter, a naturally shy person. But to attend some of her basketball games and supporting her need for one-on-one time with Terry helped with this. This takes time, years really.

Presenting a united front with Terry supporting my suggestions or requests (if reasonable) was helpful. This did require respect, caring and perhaps love. These latter two are “earned” from the point of view of the stepchild.  Caring and respect are especially important, cannot be rushed, and are granted over time. I think it must take time because as in most relations between unrelated people, trust has to be built. Even though Terry ‘s and my relationship and eventual marriage happened nearly three years after her divorce was finalized, that still is very soon in the eyes of children. Too soon to not be seen as a “competitor” with their father on some level.

Let me end by identifying some key points:

  • Stepparents had best proceed slowly.
  • Just because things went well when you were dating the biological parent, does not ensure things will go smoothly once you’re a committed couple.  A marriage effectively ends any hope of their mother and father reunifying and can reignite those feelings of loss for the children.
  • Take your time in getting to know a stepchild. Rushing it may satisfy your own unmet needs to be liked. Sharing common interests, from sports and arts, can do nothing but help.
  • As much as possible, stay out of interactions between biological parents working out holiday or vacation schedules. And especially, try to be courteous and respectful of the “other parent”, keeping in mind that (likely) neither parent would have chosen having their children live with them part-time.
  • Cooperate with the biological parent living with you, and talk, talk, talk.

 

This article is a reprint of an article posted on Terry Gaspard’s blog on http://movingpastdivorce.com. The author, Craig Gaspard, LICSW, MPA, is a clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience, primarily in the substance abuse treatment and prevention fields. He has also worked in the affordable housing and homeless services and administered a family mediation program. He is beginning anew as a family and divorce mediator in Rhode Island. 


How to be a Stepparent: Plan Some Summer Fun

Friday, July 20, 2012

 

Many stepparents want to know “how to stepparent,” but there is no one-size-fits-all-blended-families approach to give—though there are plenty of ideas.

However, there is one universal truth all humans share in common: we like to have fun.

Blended families have enough challenges going on, so why not take a break and spend a little time planning some fun activities?

There’s something to be said about the opportunity to laugh together while enjoying positive experiences. It’s the type of bonding opportunity that creates the fabric of good relationships.

And what better time to have fun than during the warm-weather months when there are a variety of activities from which to choose and longer daylight hours within which to enjoy them?

As a stepparent, making the effort and taking the lead in planning fun activities for all to enjoy is a proactive step. It beats being reactive to all of the little blended family crises that can come up over the course of a week. Your spouse will appreciate the effort, and the big payoff is… you get to have fun managing the selection process!

You can pre-select some activities and take a family vote, or plan a surprise for everyone, giving them fun clues such as what they should wear for the day.

Here are some guidelines for how to select fun activities:

1)    Use Hobbies as a Guide

If you know your stepchild or stepchildren have a particular hobby or interest, you can use that as your launch point. For example, maybe she’s interested in dinosaurs. Scout out local museums that offer exhibits, or plan a day with a dinosaur theme that could include movies, a dinosaur-drawing contest and “prehistoric” treats that you create in the kitchen.

 

2)    Mix it Up

If you normally go to movies for family entertainment, you could try visiting a local park and taking a hike, or renting kayaks for a water-based excursion. Or, vice versa, if you normally go outside for fun, find some indoor activities that would interest kids and adults alike, such as family-themed plays or concerts.

3)    You Don’t Necessarily Need to Spend a Dime

If your budget has been putting a bit of a pinch on your fun, it doesn’t mean you need to entirely nix the idea of fun altogether. Kids have great imaginations: tap them to see what ideas they can come up with. Also, check local magazines that cater to families: they often provide a calendar of events that range from no cost to some cost involved.  You may not even be aware of all of your local resources, so start investigating!

4)    Keep it Light

No matter what you decide to do, make sure everyone knows the object of what you’re trying to accomplish: relaxing and having a good time. Put a moratorium on arguments and frowning for the duration of the activity. And if things don’t work out exactly the way you pictured them in your mind, have patience. The effort was made, and that’s worth a lot in terms of blended family relations.

Let us know how it goes for you and your blended family. We would love to hear your ideas. 


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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