Articles

The Stepfamily Challenge

Thursday, February 28, 2013

by Gloria Lintermans

As a step and biological Mom, and the author of a book on stepfamilies which included not only my own experience, but research with stepfamily authorities and other stepfamilies, I am aware, all too often, of the high rate of divorce among these families.

One reason is that there are no understood guidelines for these families. Society tends to apply the rules of first marriages, while ignoring the complexities of stepfamilies.

A little clarification: In a stepfamily the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended family, there are children from both co-parents; yet, virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss.

The Landmines

Three potential problem areas are: Financial burdens, Role ambiguity, and the Children’s Negative Feelings when they don’t want the new family to “work.”

Husbands sometimes feel caught between the often impossible demands of their former family and their present one. Some second wives also feel resentful about the amount of income that goes to the husband’s first wife and family.

Legally, the stepparent has no prescribed rights or duties, which may result in tension, compromise, and role ambiguity.

Another complication of role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other.

In reality, this is often just not the case.

The third reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that a child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility, since children commonly harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

Stepmother Anxiety

Clinicians say that the role of stepmother is more difficult than that of stepfather, because stepmother families may more often be born of difficult custody battles and/or particularly troubled family relations. Society is also contradictory in expecting loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtime stories we are all familiar with).

Stepfather Anxiety

Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions, far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. A new husband might react to an “instant” family with feelings that range from admiration to fright to contempt.

The hidden agenda is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother or her children, or both, may have expectations about what he will do, but may not give him a clear picture of what those expectations are. The husband may also have a hidden agenda.

A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let the husband play father.

The key is for everyone to work together.

The husband, wife, their stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological parent can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

One Day at a Time

Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better -- a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

The best marriages are flexible marriages, but how can you be flexible if you do not know what everyone needs right now?  And, this may change over time, so there must be room for that to happen as well.

In flexible marriages, partners are freer to reveal the parts of their changing selves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later.

Spouses may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in a first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

Living Well

Since roughly one third of stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, and comfort that only healthy families provide. Consider the following for living your step/blended family life well:

You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop verbal skills: listen with empathy, effectively show your needs, and problem-solve together. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding.

Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results.

You must balance and co-manage all of these tasks well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people.

Know and take comfort in the fact that confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.


Handling Parent-Teacher Conferences

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Should Stepparents Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Parent-teacher conferences are upon us…

When the school year begins, there are all sorts of negotiations that occur: appropriate bedtimes, when to do homework, and how much gaming or time with friends is permitted.

How about the negotiations that adults, including ex-spouses and new spouses, must do in the service of raising children?

Negotiating the boundaries of blended families can be almost as challenging as the most intense negotiations done on the level of international diplomacy.  One misstep and the carefully sought-after peace can vanish.

One potential hot-spot is who should attend a parent-teacher conference.

In a perfect world, you could request separate meetings with the teacher.  But with bulging classrooms and teachers handling large numbers of students, there isn’t always enough time in their schedule to accommodate multiple meetings for the same student.

Here are some ideas for negotiating how to handle parent-teacher conferences:

Idea 1: It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

If two parents are presently not getting along but both want to attend a conference, it doesn’t hurt to ask the teacher for two separate conferences.  It’s not the best choice only because the teacher’s time needs to be respected. 

But if you really can’t get along with your ex, or your new spouse and your ex can’t get along, it may be in the teacher’s best interest to accommodate this request if they would otherwise be in the uncomfortable position of mediator. 

Idea 2: Do a Conference Trade Off

There are generally multiple parent-teacher conference opportunities during the school year.  You can take one conference and your ex can take the other—with one caveat: good notes must be taken and copies made of anything you’re given related to the child’s progress.

This way, by trading off, stepparents can also be involved in the child’s progress.  While it may be uncomfortable to sit with a child’s stepparent and discuss your biological child’s school progress, it can’t be ignored that stepparents play a role in your child’s progress.  Anything that can benefit children is a good thing, and attending conferences can help everyone feel involved as fully as possible in the child’s life.

Idea 3: Pick Your Battles

If you are the stepparent and want to attend your stepchild’s conference, but your spouse’s ex isn’t open to the idea, it may be in your best interests to let it go.  Instead, ask your spouse for details after the meeting.  Also, ask your stepchild for feedback about their progress.  This gives you an opportunity to deepen your connection with them, by showing interest in their school work and offering what assistance you can—without it becoming a battle with a biological parent.

And if you are in the situation of having a stepparent wanting to attend the parent-teacher conference along with you and your ex, reframe the request if you find yourself viewing it negatively. 

For example, instead of thinking, “Why do they always have to stick their nose in everything?” you could reframe how you view their request as, “This would be helpful for all of us to understand what’s going on with Mary so that we can all give her the best support possible.”

Also, think of it as a blessing if a stepparent takes an active interest in their stepchild.  It beats the alternative. 


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?

Healthy Communication in a Blended Family

Friday, August 24, 2012

Healthy Communication in a Blended Family

Define Your Communication Style Mix

Communicating well is a challenge for all of us, but it would seem as if a blended family would have even more challenges then most when it comes to communicating well.

Why is this?

Blending a family is more than just two people getting together who happen to have some kids. There are pre-existing family dynamics, personalities and differing communication skills that must now suddenly “blend.”

This blending can either be a harmonious occurrence, such as what you get when you blend together ingredients for a smoothie. Or, it can look like what happens when you leave the lid off of the blender: you are wiping the results off the walls and ceiling.

There are various levels of communication issues that can occur in a stepfamily. For one, children may feel torn between their natural parents—and not sure what to make of the new arrangement with the stepparent. Some will respond by being vocal, while others may hide how they’re feeling, fearful of rocking the boat. This becomes a communication issue, when either nothing is being communicated, or a child is lashing out as a means of expression.

Then, there is the parent and the stepparent and their way of communicating with kids. Maybe mom’s style of parenting has been to allow her child to debate every decision with her, while stepdad’s style is more “what I say goes.” This can cause a communication issue between the couple because of differing communication styles in the parental role.

Stepfamilies aren’t unique in having communication issues. They simply have a more unique situation than what is traditional. But think of traditional families: how many do you know that have perfect communication skills? There’s a reason many people dread the holidays—communication can either be the “special sauce” or the meal that goes down in flames.

Communication takes ongoing effort, and for a blended family, it needs to start from the top. If you are preparing for remarriage now, consider going to some form of pre-marital counseling so that you can learn more about what to expect after the “I do.” One thing that is beneficial to uncover are the expectations each of you has for how you will communicate with each other, with the kids, and what is acceptable and unacceptable when communicating.

If you’re already remarried, it’s not too late to have this discussion—and set some guidelines. It can be as simple as: “We as a family will always be open and honest with each other about what we are thinking and feeling, as long as we communicate it in a respectful tone.” Or, you and your partner may decide that how you have always communicated with your natural children is the way you will continue, and the stepparent will not interfere.

Communication works best when people take the time to actually sit down and discuss their thoughts and feelings on various topics and issues. And it’s more helpful to do so before there’s a major problem or blow-up. However, even a blow-up can become a learning experience when you work together to do better next time.

As a blended family, you are not at a disadvantage when it comes to communication. In fact, blending those different styles may make you a stronger unit, as you learn to navigate different ways of communicating with people who have a different style than you—a skill that will extend into the world at large.

 

Does your blended family have any communication issues with which you’re currently struggling, or have in the past?

 

If so, what have you tried to do in order to resolve them? Has it worked?

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. 

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. 


5 Tips for Navigating the Stepfamily Vacation

Friday, July 27, 2012

5 Tips for Navigating the Stepfamily Vacation

You and your partner work hard all year long, and you may “X” off the calendar days until those precious few days of vacation get here.

As a blended family, there may be more than just you and your spouse attending the summertime festivities. 

So, while you may be excited to take a break and enjoy your favorite activities, or simply plan to kick up your feet and do absolutely nothing for a string of days, you may be feeling a little nervous that things won’t go, well… exactly as planned.

This doesn’t mean that just because you’re a blended family, you’re going to have a struggle. Any family can follow these tips, because it takes into consideration everyone’s ideas and feelings.

Here are some tips for navigating your stepfamily vacation—while still banking some relaxation points.

Tip 1: Lower your expectations

When it comes to vacations, it’s easy to let our imaginations—and expectations—get away from us.

For example, it’s going to be a challenge to erase 51 weeks of stress in just one week.

Also, it may be expecting too much to think that all of your blended-family issues are going to disappear for a week. Wherever you and your blended family go, your issues won’t be far behind you.

When you accept this, it won’t come as quite a surprise when a conflict pops up.

Tip 2: Set Guidelines

Everyone has their hot buttons, pet peeves and annoyances, whether they’re adult, teenager or child. Have everyone agree to leave those behind.

Also, be specific.  When you say, “Let’s all just try to have a nice time,” what does that mean?

One idea is to have each family member state what he or she hopes to get out of this vacation, and how he or she defines a “nice time.” The answers may be quite interesting—and not what you would expect!

Tip 3: Involve Everyone in the Planning

To foster good feelings, get some input from each person who is going on the vacation. For example, if they could choose one thing, what would they most like to see or do?

This will help each person personalize the experience to his or her own likes, which can lead to excitement about the vacation rather than a sense of dread.

Also, it sets the stage for thinking positively rather than gearing up for away-from-home disgruntlement.

Tip 4: Let Kids Spend Time Alone with their Biological Parent if Possible

Though you are on a family vacation, it doesn’t mean you can’t split up for part of the time and have some one-on-one activities that give kids, who may or may not normally live with their parent, time alone with that parent.

Or, if you happen to be at a place such as an amusement park, make sure to partner up with your child for a ride. If you are at a beach, consider taking a short bike ride with your child. Maybe your spouse can take his or her children out for an ice cream during this time.

This can give the stepparent some much needed time alone to relax or go do an activity on his or her own that no one else is interested in. And, it fosters good feelings in kids to get a “special” treat of not having to share their parent for a chunk of time or fun activity.

Tip 5: Follow up: Reinforce the Positive Aspects of the Vacation

Your blended family will no doubt have a good time together. One way to end the vacation on a high note is to ask everyone what his or her favorite part of the whole vacation was.

This prompts each person to sift through just his or her positive memories, reinforcing the good that exists in your blended family dynamic. You carry back with you more than just luggage: you have some good memories to share and build from. 


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. 


Stepmoms: Have You Discussed Parenting Style with Stepdad?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Stepdads mean well. They marry you, knowing full well they’re taking on the family package—and they do it willingly. So let’s give these intrepid souls their due.

Let’s also not become disillusioned with the differences in child-rearing opinion and methodology we may discover after the “I do.”

Learning about each other’s parenting philosophy is a conversation that you hopefully have had prior to making your vows. Even first-marrieds can have differing opinions on how to raise children: one may be a strict disciplinarian, while the other takes more of a laissez-faire approach.

You can see the potential for a clash!

If you haven’t had that conversation, it’s never too late. You may not agree with your husband’s approach to pitching in with your kids. I recommend you offer a guiding hand so he knows what your expectations are.

To begin with, understand that stepdads don’t get a lot of press, unless it’s a negative story or character in a movie. So, stepdads don’t get as much information as what’s out there for stepmothers, or they may think, “No big deal—nothing I can’t handle,” and then they enter the reality of the stepfamily dynamic and think, “I’m in over my head!”

No doubt they enter the remarriage union with the best of intentions. But if your husband runs afoul of the way you have been doing things for years… they suddenly find themselves on shaky ground when you get upset.

Chuck Semich, a licensed family therapist and RemarriageWorks advice columnist, offers the following three tips so a stepmom can guide her husband through the transition into the stepfamily:

1-    Practice Patience

If you keep in mind that your husband means well, it will help you to remember to be patient as he gets situated in his new role. Don’t become disillusioned with your dream man when you discover his beliefs about raising children are diametrically opposed to yours! He may simply not understand your preference for how you want your kids raised, and needs time to assimilate your way of doing things.

2-    Have a Calm Discussion

 

It needs to be a calm discussion, because yelling doesn’t get anyone anywhere. I would encourage stepmoms who find themselves in the position of having a different parenting style from their husband to calmly but firmly explain that they seem to have two different sets of expectations. Let him know you welcome suggestions, but that you want him to leave the parenting decisions and the parenting style up to you. Often what happens is that a stepdad thinks he’s helping his wife when he steps in with the children when they seem to be getting out of hand. In my opinion, when that happens, he is really undermining her authority with the children. She needs to tell him that, because he probably doesn’t realize it. Actually, your husband may be relieved to find out he’s not expected to rescue you from your children!

3-    Compliment, Relate, Repeat,

Some women say, “I’ve told him over and over, but it keeps happening.” If your husband didn’t hear you, it’s possible either he wasn’t listening or you didn’t express it very clearly. I think that sometimes the husbands feel they’re not doing a good job, and when it’s presented to them in a way that they hear that, they’re going to resist it. I think it’s good when you want to start that conversation, point out some of the things he’s doing well, and let him know you really appreciate what he’s done. Then say, “Here’s an area where we need to come to some agreement.” Sometimes it’s just a problem of marital communication where a good family therapist may be of help to get you started on the right path.


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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