Articles

How Much Do Dads Matter Post-Divorce?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

By Ronald B. Cohen, MD

 

It’s almost back to school time and The Million Father March, sponsored by the Black Star project, will take place on August 14, 2013.  The march will take place in nearly 800 cities across America and encourages fathers to take their children to the first day of school.  Among those dads are the fathers who have been divorced.  How important is it for divorced dads to maintain and build a relationship with their children post-divorce?  How do fathers change in status and relationship position after they get divorced?

 

Dads often have a difficult time figuring out how to have a meaningful relationship with their children after their marriages end.  As former spouses, each parent must simultaneously develop new rules and behaviors with each other while they find new ways of relating independently with their children.  Children do best when they maintain relationships with both parents as well as extended families, and are not triangulated into parental disputes.

 

More than thirty years ago John W. Jacobs, MD reviewed psychological literature related to experiences faced by divorcing fathers.  He concluded that:

 

  1. Fathers have a critical role in the normal development of children.
  2. Parenthood is a maturational phase of male psychological development.
  3. Children deprived of their fathers as a result of parental divorce, may suffer from a wide range of emotional problems.
  4. Divorced fathers often suffer when separated from their children.
  5. Children and parents do better when there is greater continuity of contact.

 

A father’s greatest fear is severely restricted contact, or even complete loss of any meaningful relationship with his children.  And, according to Constance Ahron’s three decade long follow-up and reevaluation of adult children of divorce has shown that fathers and children can and do maintain long-term positive interactions.  Given that it is the level of ongoing parental conflict and bitterness that is detrimental to children, many father-child relationships can be salvaged and improved post-divorce.

 

Nurturance of familial relationships requires reliability, consistency and genuine interest.  Loss of their relationship with their fathers is often the most psychologically damaging effect of divorce on children.  Children do better when the custody agreement includes free access to both parents.

 

Healthy adjustment of children without long-term psychological damage requires that divorced parents restructure their lives in ways that allow children to continue their relationships with both parents.  Child adjustment is best when there is a solid home base, when biological parents can cooperate in co-parenting without ongoing conflict, and when the noncustodial parent maintains reliable contact, caring, and support.

 

Ronald B. Cohen, MD is an experienced systemic family therapist and board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in helping families adapt and heal at times of unexpected crises and stressful life-cycle challenges.  Dr. Cohen is a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and an Affiliate Member of the American Academy of Marital and Family Therapy.     


Past Pain - Future Gain: The Birth of Stepfamily Systems Co-Parenting Center

Monday, May 20, 2013

“Forgiveness is the fresh start many lose in the baggage of their past,” according to Tricia Powe, co-parenting mediator and stepfamily assimilation strategist at Stepfamily Systems Co-Parenting Center in Riverside, CA.  She has also unpacked her share of post-divorce and remarriage baggage as a lifetime stepfamily member; hence, she understands the power of forgiveness and defines it this way, ”Forgiveness is not saying that the perceived wrong is excused or okay, but it does say we have chosen to no longer allow it to encumber the present or our futures.” Who among us doesn’t like the sound of breaking the chains that are weighting us down?

 

Born into a stepfamily that failed, Tricia was adopted by extended family members leading a successfully blended stepfamily when she was five years old. Other family members did not agree with the adoption and threw confusion into her understanding by saying, “Some day, honey, your real mommy is coming back for you.” Such statements by her biological mother’s advocates were hard for a 10-year-old to process and disrupted bonding with the second family.

 

In high school and her early college years, parts of her mind were anchored in the past and she was a distracted student. Meanwhile, Rich Powe, Tricia’s future husband had grown up in a traditional family with a homemaker mom and a dad who supported his family well. Rich had gone to private schools and graduated from college, but had not been as fortunate in married life. After six years and three children, his wife filed for divorce.

 

Stepfamily Systems Co-directors, Tricia and Rich Powe, were introduced by a mutual friend and they married in 1985; their exchange of “I do” triggered a change in shared-parenting dynamics as a couple, as well as between the co-parenting adults of the children’s three influential households. Co-parenting support was scant in the 1980s and research began.

Their personal experience lends itself to trust at work; clients like knowing they have walked the walk. The pursuit of information expanded their knowledge and built the foundation for the cognitive co-parenting model created by Tricia; it is the core of the programs they offer.

 

Research continues through the current seven-year, self-reporting survey project that is now in its fourth year based on the question, “Litigation produces a court order and mediation results in an agreement, then what?” Applying the established facts, a simple method was created for parents and stepparents to get on the same page – something that is frequently not the case for unhappy couples.

Every support option offered on-line or at the care center is rooted in advance planning accomplished through the innovative Co-Parenting Care Plan™. Just as mapping vacations before you leave helps one minimize wrong turns, a Co-Parenting Care Plan™ supports the journey of shared-parenting after the break-up through stepfamily formation. Most parents will spend hundreds of dollars celebrating birthdays they plan, but leave out charting course for the fulfillment of their biggest wish – raising healthy, well-adjusted children with the least amount of stress possible. Whether a couple is beginning to lead a family without a shared history, or they have been trying to blend for a while, but need a fresh start, the plans provide a system for conflict reduction and personalized home care 24/7.  

Any co-parenting adult can access no-cost support by reading answers to questions submitted to the on-line, no-cost Q & A column, It’s A Journey, breaking out of archives this June. Questions may be emailed to StraightTalk@StepfamilySystems.ORG.

 

Specialty, advance planning is available in three ways. First, private enrollment allows a mom, dad, stepparent, or grandparent to accomplish planning at his or her own pace, but not exceeding the standard 16-week enrollment period. The next option is group-rate planning online. The course is uploaded weekly over the enrollment period. The third selection is a one-day, jam-packed course on-site with optional discounts to extend care over 16-weeks.

 

In all of these Co-Parenting Care Plan™ options, Telecare and an exit review come before the certificate. Among the most innovative of support options, for which a film grant offer has been received, is the print support series written by five writers with different author styles and a unique story focus. A RiChTer BLeNd, Co-Parenting & Stepfamily Chronicles provides insights, tips and expanded reviews from professionals in mediation, mental health and family law for subscribers. Click here [http://stepfamilysystems.org/richter-blend-series.html] for story previews at the bottom of the page.

Stepfamily Systems Co-Parenting Center completed a nonprofit leadership and mentoring program that made them eligible to apply for a grant from CAP Riverside. Today, they have their 501c3 nonprofit paperwork in process and have won the Lingafelter grant. These funds help grassroots organizations pay non-reoccurring, start-up, administrative expenses. Qualifications for funding included: 1) maximum feasible participation of the poor; 2) strong agency capacity that leverages community resources and secures private and public sector grants; and 3) innovative programs. As a result, they have expanded their research project through a site-based, school program launching this fall.

Call the office for more information about any of these innovative programs and support with an entertaining twist! 951.684.2187

 

Overcoming recall issues related to organic brain stress caused from multiple head traumas, Tricia possesses 90 hours mediation training – 40 of those earned through Mosten Mediation, Los Angeles, an ABA-approved program (1998), and has earned certifications in mediation for H. R. managers (UC Irvine, Ext.), Philanthropy & Development (La Sierra University School of Business), and Small Business Ownership (SBA – American Women’s Economic Development program). She has had a part in mentoring over 5,000 men and women since her first course’s presentation in 1990. Rich is active in business development, holds his degree in marketing from Santa Clara University, and has mediation training through the CAP Riverside program.


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.


Dreaming of a Peaceful Christmas in Your Stepfamily?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

...or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? The only way to trim holiday angst is to make new traditions and keep some old.

By Elizabeth Einstein

(This article is re-printed from reMarriage magazine, Fall 08.)

Shortly after the long-needled spruce went up in the family room, the trouble began. The holiday tree was anchored in its stand, but stood bare for several days. Opinions on decorating styles, it seemed, were anchored as well, along traditional family lines. As the arguments swirled over tree decorations, they spilled over into what was the perfect time to open gifts: Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

What a start to this stepfamily’s first Christmas together! Robert and Liz had married in late fall, and now, just weeks after settling into a new house, the holidays were upon them. He was widowed with four children under 12; she was divorced with two teenage daughters. Although everyone seemed excited about the new family they were building, the stress created from so many changes was mounting.

Now they were staring straight at their differences, about how holidays were to be celebrated—and especially how a decorated tree was supposed to look. In a Solomon-like moment, the family decided to divide the tree into two sections, with each group doing their “traditional” things.

That first stepfamily holiday decision became a family legend that still elicits laughter every time they tell it. Over the years, as they began to feel more like a family, all the members made a commitment to compromise. Rather than a his and hers concoction, this stepfamily created their first ours tree—complete with all the sentimental items and new acquisitions.

Because Robert’s older two children remained tied to stringing popcorn and cranberries and his younger ones insisted on making colorful paper chains as they always had, those old-fashioned decorations festooned their side, Liz and her daughters wouldn’t hear of not using the beautiful ornaments they had collected from their travels. Each shiny globe evoked happy memories for them. And a new tradition emerged: selecting that one special ornament during a family vacation. Because the children had to negotiate which one to buy, their compromises reflected forward steps on their stepfamily journey.

Skirting Holiday Landmines

Memories and traditions are important to all families, but when holidays arrive, remarried families start with several strikes against them. Roots are fragile. Happy memories are fading. Stepfamily members share no common history. Individual traditions may differ vastly and people cling to them for what they represent; giving them up feels like yet another loss. The most important thing is to meet them head on. Acknowledge up front that things are going to be different.

Robert and Liz’s tale is repeated in remarried families everywhere; only the scenarios differ. Add a multi-ethnic remarriage and the learning curve grows. Aunt Nina always expects to have the first night of Hanukkah. Are the stockings hung or laid on the hearth? Where will the Kwanzaa celebration happen? Will Mom let us borrow the unity up (Kikombe cha Umoja) or should we get a new one? Whether adopting a new appreciation for the traditional African celebration of values or celebrating a totally new holiday, each scenario asks the question: What will our new stepfamily values be?

  • The holiday itself. Christmas or Hanukkah? Kwanzaa or Christmas? Both?

  • The Christmas tree. Live or artificial? Cut down, buy one to plant after the holiday, or return to a favorite corner stand?

  • Decorations. New modern menorah or family heirloom? Handmade tablecloth from your grandmom or mine?

  • Dress. Dressy or casual?

  • Food. “What do you mean we’re having turkey? My mom always makes ham decorated with cherries!”

  • Gift and gift-giving. One special expensive item or many smaller gifts? Give to each other or to charity? When do presents get opened? Robert’s younger children always awoke to presents in the morning after Santa’s delivery; Liz’s daughters liked a Christmas Eve ritual so they could sleep in late. Their compromise was opening packages that the mail carrier had delivered in the evening, with Santa’s and the rest on Christmas morning.

Solutions and compromises are there, but working out differences takes advance planning and time. Waiting to open boxes of “his” and “hers” ornaments until it’s time to trim the tree is courting trouble.

Long before the holidays arrive, begin talking about how things were done in former families—and why. “We always used that menorah because it once belonged to our great grandmother in Germany.” Perhaps the decision to get the dreaded artificial tree makes sense when the other side understands it as a green statement—“to save real trees.” Discussions about the emotions behind a tradition can start family members thinking about creative compromises. Sharing traditions, including the ones that still hold warm memories, motivates family members to become more sensitive to each others’ ways and needs. There is no “right” or “wrong,” just raw emotions and long-held beliefs. When it comes to traditions, judging the other way as “wrong” only hurts feelings and hinders stepfamily bonding.

It’s surprising to realize that traditions sometimes are repeated when, in reality, they lost their significance long ago. It might not be so bad to start some new ones.

Visitation Revisited

Pressures are never higher than when discussing who gets the kids during the key holiday moments, whether it’s the annual seder or the Easter Egg hunt. And nowhere does communication become more critical than when clarifying visitation schedules during these supposedly “happy” times.

The already complex family situation is multiplied with remarriage, with stepdads and ex-wives and multiple grandparents all wanting a piece of the action. Imagine this difficult scenario for young children. After sharing Christmas Eve with their mother, Fred awakens his children early because he’s booked them into five 2-hour visits: breakfast at Grandma Helen’s, snack and gifts at Aunt Betty’s, Christmas dinner at Grandma and Grandpa Ellstrom’s house, late afternoon with Fred’s mom before going to supper at Aunt Sarah’s. Is it any surprise that the children are cranky and tired before they even get to the last grandma’s house? By that point, they don’t even care about more presents and have no idea who gave them what loot. They whine and want to go home. All that chaos and they haven’t even had their own stepfamily celebration yet!

Because holidays are emotionally charged, too often what is meant to be a joyful time becomes more terrible than terrific. A better stress-reducing solution would be to plan several celebrations so everyone can truly enjoy each special time. Because December 25 is merely a calendar date, stretching out the festivities can make them more meaningful to everyone.

Although children of divorce deal with many challenges, they aren’t unhappy about all the extra holiday dinners, presents, and attention they get from their new extended family, say researchers. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Professor Frank F. Furstenberg, Jr., who studied the effects of the extended family on the stepfamily, the key is how well adults handle the situation. Resolving differences with their former spouses and refusing to use the children to settle differences mirror what’s possible in stepfamily living.

Sure, you might have to cook an additional turkey or take another day off, but keeping schedules simple is the secret to a successful holiday.

Looking for Enriching Times

As youngsters travel great distances to be with their other parent, holiday success rests with the adults in both households.

At one end, the children need to be prepared. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know you feel good that they can be with their other parent. Keep any sadness you feel to yourself.

The receiving parent needs to help the children feel comfortable with the transition during this sensitive time. Remember that some children—especially teenagers—would rather be with familiar friends and surroundings. Get them involved in the new experience; avoid treating the kids who don’t live with you year-round as guests. “Hey, Alex, your dad tells me you make great popcorn balls. Would you do that for us while you’re here?” Giving them small responsibilities can make them feel a part of creating the holiday, too—and more a part of your household.

Holidays can be an enriching time for children of remarriage. As youths move between two families, and many travel to new places, stepchildren may meet new people and gain new experiences. Teenager Jenifer says she likes going to her dad’s place in St. John’s the day after Christmas with her dad and stepmother. “It’s cool because one day I am out cross-country skiing with my brothers in New York and the next afternoon I’m out sailing with my dad in the Virgin Islands.” Like Jenifer, who adapted to not being with her mother the entire Christmas week, children can learn to become more adaptable and flexible.

More role models from a greater extended family offer new beliefs, attitudes, and skills. Jenifer’s father recalls how his own creative father loved to paint but couldn’t nail a bird house together. His stepfather’s hobby involved sailing and woodworking. “Learning all that from him led me to become a carpenter and to living on a sailboat. It’s great to have a spare dad,” he says.

For most of us, the holidays are a time of expectations. Unmet ones account for much of the disappointment, sadness, and postholiday depression that people in all families experience. An emphasis on planning ahead and creating realistic holiday expectations will prepare remarried families to receive the gifts the holidays offer. When hopes and dreams are balanced with reality, a joyful exchange of sharing old traditions while making new ones can provide a festive foundation for the stepfamily’s future. And it just might skirt some of those holiday landmines.

Elizabeth Einstein, LMFT, is a nationally known marriage and family therapist. An award-winning author and coauthor of a new teach-out-of the box program, Active Parenting for Stepfamilies, she trains professionals to work more effectively with stepfamilies. She lives in Ithaca, New York.


Is Your New Spouse’s Ex Making Trouble?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Avoid Ex-Spouse’s Issues Becoming Remarriage Issue

You’re happily remarried—except you feel you’ve entered a bizarre love triangle: your spouse’s ex seems intent on destroying your happy union.

Remarriage is well-known for having its own special challenges. When you develop a relationship with someone who has formerly been married, that marriage represents a deeper bond than just someone your spouse dated. Extrication from the ex is difficult because first, finances and legal issues must be handled. And when there are children involved, extrication can’t be 100 percent.

Some ex-spouses have a hard time letting go, especially when they see their ex moving on and seemingly happy, and they themselves have not yet arrived at a happier phase in their life.

An ex-spouse’s frustration can come out in a variety of ways. If there was property held in common, this can be a source of contention and used as a battlefield. An ex-spouse may drag their feet on selling the property, which has implications on the finances of the newly remarried couple.

One of the most difficult areas, though, would be when children are pulled into the fray. There can be a tug-of-war between the ex-spouse and the new spouse, with the children the rope in the middle.

The result of an ex-spouse’s troublemaking, no matter what form it comes in, is that the newly remarried couple is focusing their attention on the wrong place: the ex-spouse. As a couple, you need time and attention given to your marriage—not constantly hashing it out over what the ex-spouse just did.

Let’s face it: this can put a serious damper on the joy and love that is rightfully your experience in your new marriage.

How should a remarried couple handle dealing with an ex-spouse bent on troublemaking? Here are 3 tips to help you get through:

Tip 1: Take a Different Viewpoint

It’s only natural to view any threat to your remarriage as the enemy, and that includes a troublesome ex-spouse.

The ex-spouse isn’t an enemy: they are a person who is struggling and hopefully, temporarily misguided. Their behavior, while troublesome, is evidence of their being emotionally troubled.

By looking at them in this light, it can lessen the amount of strain you are feeling. Also, if you have stepchildren, they no doubt sense the tension that’s there in their biological parents’ relationship, so your moderated feelings can provide a safe haven.

Tip 2: Appoint the Problem Manager

It’s natural for the remarried couple to want to join forces and treat this situation as “defeating a common enemy.” This is one time where the best way to work as a team is to work separate. If it’s your ex-spouse, then it is up to you to manage the issue. If it is your spouse’s ex, then they must manage the issue.

This helps get the confrontation out in the open and hopefully closer to resolution if the two most-involved parties are the ones going back and forth. Adding a person who wasn’t party to that marriage seems to only fuel the fire of contention, heightening already-heightened emotions of the ex. They may feel ganged up on, or get a little thrill at the thought of causing upset in their ex-spouse’s home.

Tip 3: Tend to Your Remarriage                                       

When you are not knee-deep in the issues between your spouse and their ex, you are able to concentrate on doing those things that build your remarriage, such as planning for fun times together.

Having fun together as a remarried couple is more challenging when you are both in knots over the latest “antics” of a troubled ex-spouse. By keeping some distance from the fray, you can provide a sympathetic ear to your spouse while also focusing your attention on providing a positive home environment that promotes enforcing the bonds of your relationship.

And when it comes to hoping for some light at the end of this particular tunnel, remember the saying, “This too, shall pass.” 


De-Stress the House-Hunting Process

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tips for Positively Involving Your Blended Family

By Vicki Harvey, Realtor

You’ve taken the proverbial plunge—and it’s not your first time: you have two families that will now become one.

And this may be the time to seriously consider buying a new home.

Moving two families into a new home can be expensive, but it can be worth the expense if it creates a more harmonious living situation for all.  A new home can mean no one will feel like an outsider because no territories have been pre-established, and everyone gets a fresh start. 

While this may sound like a happy ending, moving can still be stressful for everyone.  By making the process inclusive and fun, you will be more likely to gain emotional buy-in to the whole idea of moving. Here are three tips for lessening the stress:

Tip 1: Wave the Magic Wand

Wave the magic wand and find out from each family member what the most important thing is—if they could have what they want—in a new home.  Each person can only pick one “must have” thing, but this one thing will be quite telling of what’s most important to each family member. 

Regardless of what it is, parents will get a feel for something each kid can control, such as having a pink room, a new video game system, or their own computer work space.  If these wishes can be incorporated into your new space in any possible way, the kids will be excited about the move rather than dreading it.         

Tip 2: Pick a Song     

Have everyone vote on a theme song for your family and play it just before going house hunting.  Make sure the song is catchy and play it loud just before heading out.  Do your best to sing along and really rock out. 

On moving day, use that same song again as you pull up to the new home.  This will create a great memory of the experience.  Every time that song is played, a stronger bond will form as family members anticipate the coming events of the day. 

Also, every time that song is played after the move, the song will be tied to the memory of moving.  It will be a natural link that will create positive emotions around the move. 

Tip 3: Clip It In

Purchase a clipboard for every child that will be involved in the home search.  Clip in a mix of blank paper and lined paper and bring along an assortment of colorful pens, pencils and flair markers. 

Have kids make pro and con lists as they tour each home or draw a picture of a unique feature of the home or the same feature in every home.  This will occupy kids and provide interesting review items at the end of the day’s tour.  It will help you differentiate what you’ve seen, and the kids will be proud to offer this input.

The key is to prepare children for what lies ahead, and these tips can help make that journey easier and less stressful for any kids that are on the move into blended family life.

About the Guest Author: Vicki Harvey of Columbia, Maryland is with Long & Foster Real Estate and loves to help blended families find their perfect new home. Vicki understands that a new home is the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together in a special space for the new family that is being born. She also loves to educate homeowners about maintenance and updates to ensure that the family continues to love their new space over the years! Questions, comments: vzharvey@gmail.com.


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. 


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.


Enforcing House Rules

Monday, October 15, 2012

3 Tips for Maintaining Harmony in your Blended Family

Parents struggle to enforce house rules with their own children. Add stepchildren to the mix, and suddenly it feels as if you’re herding cats.

Stepchildren and biological children may try to play both households where they reside against the other. It’s similar to the theme of “But Johnny’s parents let him stay up until 3 in the morning playing Halo 3.”

Only in a blended family household, adults will hear, “But Mom lets me do that at her house” and “Dad never makes me do that.”

A child’s goal? To get their way or get out of doing something unpleasant such as cleaning, of course.

And the result for the adults?

Often, parents and stepparents will feel guilt and question themselves: Am I too harsh? Am I being too rigid?

Or, you may feel defensive about being painted in a negative light against the “other parent” and respond with anger with “My house, my rules!”

House rules are created for multiple reasons: for the good of all family members and residents visiting or living under your roof, for harmony, and for everyone to know what the adults’ expectations are for how they want their home to run.

What is done or not done at the child’s other home is similar to what’s done or not done at Little Johnny’s home: it has no bearing on how you elect to do things in your home.

So how do you enforce your house rules without feeling tyrannical, guilty, or otherwise just plain mean?

Here are 3 house-rule enforcement tips you can start using today:

1)    Clearly Communicate the Rules

One of the best ways to communicate house rules is to write them down and post them prominently, maybe on the door of the refrigerator. This way, no one in the household can take any one rule “personally;” they’re the same for everyone.

Often, kids may bristle at being called out for their behavior, such as watching too much TV. They can feel singled out and become defensive, and that’s when they look for a way to deflect what they’re taking as a personal criticism by saying, “But Dad always lets me…”

Clearly communicated rules that are posted gives everyone the option to follow the rules on their own, just like everyone else. If they disobey the rules, they have made a choice, and then your fallback can be, “The rules are clear and are the same for everyone.” While they may still find the rules unfair, mean, etc., they also will have to take responsibility for their choice.

2)    Call a Family Meeting to Explain the Reasoning Behind the Rules

Often, kids really don’t know why a rule is a rule in the first place. After all, what’s the harm in staying up until 3 a.m. playing Halo 3?

Because you have an adult’s perspective and life experience, you know that adequate sleep is needed, too much gaming isn’t healthy, etc. When posting your rules, you can go over each one and explain the reason this has become a rule. Kids are sharp and they catch on—especially when they have reasonable explanations to work with.

3)    Maintain Consistency in Rule Enforcement

When you establish a house rule, make sure it’s something that holds true for everyone. Or else, be clear for whom the rule does not apply and why.

For example, if you stay up until 3 a.m. playing Halo 3, don’t think one of the kids won’t bring it up as “But you get to do it!” So if this is a rule for the 16 and under crowd, state it clearly, and why it is just for them.

One caveat for having rules not applying to some household members: if your biological children are in the house along with your stepchildren, be careful not to have two sets of rules that are divided by parentage. Maybe at your ex’s home, your kids are allowed to do something. If that influences what you do, then it has to be either a rule for all or not a rule at all. Otherwise, it creates resentment and bad feelings which does not lend itself to a harmonious home.

Let us know…

How do you enforce house rules?

Do you struggle with enforcement? If so, how and why?

What is the most common complaint about house rules that you hear from your kids and stepkids?


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?



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