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As you all know, I often quote the saying “Children Live What They Learn.” This quote was ingrained in me by my mother when I got pregnant with my oldest son at the age of 19. She also had this saying posted on our refrigerator for years:
“If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn. If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive. If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves. If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy. If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy. If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty. If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence. If children live with tolerance, they learn patience. If children live with praise, they learn appreciation. If children live with acceptance, they learn to love. If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves. If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal. If children live with sharing, they learn generosity. If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness. If children live with fairness, they learn justice. If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect. If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them. If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.”
These words are the motto in which I as a mother and step-mother try to raise my blended family up in ,and I know that these words are what keeps me grounded when it comes to any conflict that may arise in our family. My hope is that some of the readers here on our forum will take away from this post the same thing I take away from it on a daily basis. Our efforts in maintaining our blended families are so important to our children.
When we are able to come to this realization, no matter what our situations, our lives will become easier within our blended families. Conflict will become easier to handle because our first and foremost thoughts will be the children ,and what they take away from our examples will teach them which roads to take when they themselves become adults and are faced with the same conflicts or situations.
I hope you are blessed by these words as much as I am.
Divorced parents argue, agonize and litigate constantly, over how much time their children will spend with each of them. As these parents are held captive by complicated calendars and negotiate [fight] about parenting time, it has become more and more apparent to me, that the battles are really power struggles due to fear of losing relationships with their children. Their concern is seemingly more about their interests rather than about their childrens’ best interest. Through it all, no one bothers to ask the children exactly how they feel and how it affects them. Parents either assume that their children will adjust, unaffected or are too wrapped up in “sticking it” to the other parent that they simply don’t care. Through informal interviews with children and adults of divorce and blended families as well as a research study done by Dr. Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, the inconsistency regarding what mattered to the children and what mattered to the parents was amazing. As such, I thought it would be interesting to share with you what the children want you to know.
As you may know, the opinions of children are often overlooked as it pertains to divorce, so they had a lot to say. As a result, I decided to create a series of articles regarding what the children want you to know. The first will be what the children want you to know about living arrangements and parenting time.
What the children want you to know about living arrangements and parenting time
Deciding living arrangements and parenting time after a divorce is just about as painful as contemplating the divorce itself. It’s extremely overwhelming when trying to agree on what’s in the best interest of your children post-divorce. Parents become engrossed by rigid schedules which calculate their respective time with their children to the exact second. They want to be sure that they aren’t being cheated out of their parental rights. Most mothers don’t want their babies bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball between households. They assume that by having their children spend the majority of time with them that they are creating stable households in an already chaotic world for their children. Fathers, on the other hand, desire to remain in contact and involved the way they were prior to the divorce, and feel that having equal time between both parents will allow their children to retain their relationships with each parent. Hopefully, by listening to these children, parents will be able to figure out the most favorable living and parenting time situation for their children.
The results from my study (20 children and adults who are products of divorce/blended families) and Dr. Constance Ahrons study (173 grown children of divorce and blended families) were consistent. All of them expressed that they would have liked to have their needs considered more. Some noted what really upset them, even more than the going back and forth, was the constant fighting over which one had more time. It truly made them feel as if it really wasn’t about spending time with them at all. Instead, it felt like they were more interested in punishing each other. Additionally, they said that they wanted to be able to maintain meaningful relationships with BOTH parents. When one parent limited contact with the other, for whatever reason, it made them feel as if they were losing that parent. It almost felt like a death, to them. They not only lost their family, but they lost a parent as well. All they want is to be able to continue their lives with as little stress and interruption as possible, and suddenly losing a relationship with a parent IS STRESSFUL!
These children also want you to know that transitioning from house to house IS HARD! To them, it feels like they have to deal with change over which they have no control. They want to have their needs considered. For example, older children (12 and up) desire flexibility in the parenting time schedule. Feeling tied to a strict schedule is annoying and unfair. Smaller children want to be reassured that things will be okay. They feel frightened, left out and confused.
When parents are in conflict
When parents are in conflict, children said that they NEVER look forward to going back and forth. They detest being grilled by either parent about what’s going on in the other household. They also despise their parents bad-mouthing the other, putting them in the difficult position of having to choose sides. These children expressed that their parents can reduce stress by at least minimally cooperating and leaving them out of grown up issues. This group also declared that they are smarter than what we give them credit for. Even the parents who are gritting their teeth to operate in what they think is a civil manner, their children still feel a great deal of hostility.
My husband and his ex-wife are a great example of this. I once reached out to her asking if we could sit down and resolve our issues because she clearly had and has a major problem with me. Her response was that she didn’t wish to disrupt the level of calm and civility in K’s (stepson) life at this time. To her, things were calm and K was properly adjusting because nobody was literally tearing each other apart when in the same room. She didn’t take into account that visitation drop-off and pick-up occurs in front of a police station where they each stand on opposite sides of the street, while not even making eye contact with each other and delivering handwritten notes via K. But, even K and M (my son) could tell that there was a problem; which was why I tried to reach out to her. Often times K and M (at 6 and 7 years old) would debate about how much K’s parents (my husband and his ex-wife) HATED each other, and they used that specific word. So, parents just because you aren’t yelling and arguing back and forth at each other doesn’t mean that your children don’t pick up on the obvious tension.
When parents get along
About one fourth of the entire group noted how beneficial it was to have their parents cooperate with and even like each other! They appreciate their parents talking to each other, in a friendly manner, instead of passing notes via the kids. Having parents who get along helps ease the transition between households; it helps to normalize their dsyfunctional family. They expressed a feeling of security and were less worried about the changes of divorce. These children felt like they adjusted faster and didn’t dwell on their parents being back together again.
In my case, my ex and I cooperate with each other and communicate our disagreements pretty well. I will not say that we agree on everything, but we make every effort to hear the other out, work out an optimal compromise and don’t involve our son. We definitely put his needs above our own interests. We remain flexible with our parenting time schedule and he has unlimited access to either parent in our respective households. Drop off and pick up occurs at our respective homes, and we always have a friendly conversation at those times. As a matter of fact, all of us (me, my husband, my ex and his wife) are friendly with one another. Our son has taken notice of this as well. When he was 6 years old (during that same conversation that he had with my stepson about his parents hating each other) he said that his mommy and daddy liked each other. I asked him how he could tell and he replied, “Because every time you each other, you smile and give each other a hug.” Recently, I asked him if he ever wanted his biological parents to be back together again; and he responded with an emphatic no! He said that he is happy with the way his family is and he wouldn’t change a thing.
What is evident is that regardless of parenting time and living arrangements, children hate being put in the middle. They want their parents to consider their feelings more and work together to resolve conflict that makes an already stressful situation even more stressful. Most importantly, these children want the opportunity to maintain stable and meaningful relationship with BOTH parents. They’ve already lost their family; they don’t desire to lose a parent, too.
Interesting Fact: Children whose parents were constantly in conflict after the divorce grew up to have trust and commitment issues in their own relationships. Almost all of them blamed the divorce on these issues. However, children whose parents cooperated, got along, and encouraged contact and relationships with either parent grew up to embrace family and seemingly adjusted better than the other children post-divorce.
Stepfathers don’t get enough credit, and because I know at least two that are exceptional, I feel obligated to pay homage to them in this post.
Some stepfathers enter into a second marriage trying to recover old wounds from his own past, build a marriage with his new wife, and settle into his new family with his stepchildren and often times, children from his previous marriage. Although it is a difficult situation for them, it must be handled with care because their new role can affect many people and many situations. There are those who take this challenge seriously and use their new role to help heal fatherless children. Those individuals deserve praise for stepping in to help raise another man’s child/ren.
The first man that I must honor is my husband who has been in my son’s life since he was 4 years old (he’s now 11). He is “dad” to him in every way that counts, and for the first time since my own father, he has proven to me that being a father is much more than just playing with a child and disciplining him. You can often find my husband picking up and dropping off at school, attending parent-teacher conferences, coaching little league, knowing my son’s favorite foods, watching his favorite shows (even the ones he can’t stand), making him laugh and loving away his pain. He basically does everything a good mother would do. The amazing thing about these types of stepfathers, including my husband, is they are not bound by obligation. Instead, they are with these complicated families by choice. That, in and of itself, is powerful! They make a choice to love us and our child/ren.
The second man that I must recognize in this post is my stepson’s stepfather. Ok…did I confuse you?? Even through all the chaos and turmoil that our respective families face (mostly due to his wife, my husband’s ex-wife), I can not deny that he is a great father. Through numerous conversations with my stepson, it has been revealed to me how much he adores his stepfather. He’s told me about his favorite dish that his stepfather cooks for him. He often picks him up from school. He’s the excited dad in the stands at baseball games. He’s the father who is primarily raising him in his home. Although his wife (my husband’s ex) would like for him to believe that my husband is on some sort of ego trip because another man is raising his son, this couldn’t be further from the truth. My husband actually appreciates the fact that another man can be there, full-time (we live in separate states) because he can’t. I, too, have come to learn, through my stepson, how invaluable this man is to him. Additionally, I realize that it can’t be easy because his wife comes equipped with a lot of emotional baggage. This baggage keeps us bickering, in and out of court, on a regular basis. Yet, through it all, he remains completely devoted, by choice, to this child and his mother. That, alone, deserves a major pat on the back!
One definition of a stepfather is “the man who is married to someone’s mother, but isn’t their real father.” It makes it sound like these men are more like boys/girls club mentors than they are fathers. Whoever created this definition obviously isn’t or has never had a stepfather because these men are real fathers in every way that counts.
Paula Biscare, Founder of Remarriage, LLC said it best – A stepfather is the man stuck next to you on the freeway on a Friday evening, relentlessly trying to get home to catch his stepson’s umpteenth baseball game this week. He’s the shopper at Wal-Mart at 4 a.m. December 24 trying to snag the last copy of the hottest video game. He’s the neighbor teaching his stepson to hedge the bushes, or his stepdaughter how to parallel park.
Stepfathers listen compassionately to their teenage stepchildren at the dinner table and skip golf on Saturday morning so they can take them to their SATs. They provide endless guidance and leadership, all while silently providing a secure and safe environment for their families. They often take on financial responsibilities, from medical bills, to college and wedding bills, and they do so without complaint.
Some stepfathers are unsung heroes that deserve honor, support, recognition and praise. I will continue to recognize them in my own way, and I hope that all you second and ex-wives and stepchildren take the time to show the stepfather in your lives just how important he is to your family.
My name is Kela Price. I am currently working towards a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with a special emphasis on blended families and have experienced my own blended family issues. I love my husband, but being a second wife and a step-mom is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We started out on shaky ground, but now we’ve formed a union that can not be broken by ex-wives and ex-lives.
For the past 7 years I have been an ex (I have a child with someone who is currently remarried) and a current wife (I am married to someone who has a child with someone else) and my experience totally challenges the traditional advice that you may have heard regarding the blended family.
I created this blog for a couple of reasons: Every now and then I just need to vent because my husband’s ex-wife is certifiable. I have heard about plenty “baby mamas” from friends. But ,every time I tell my story, they all agree that they don’t envy me. It’s a shame how bitter and angry some people CHOOSE to be. Additionally, I wanted to create a space where others can hear and hopefully learn from my story.
After living through my own blended family for 7 years and spending countless hours researching different blended family coping methods with other moms and dads, psychologists and attorneys, I started writing and speaking on the topic both locally and nationally. One side of my blended family at least tries to work together (me, my ex, his wife and my husband) and the other is a complete mess (me, my husband, my husband’s crazy ex and her husband). Please note that in order for my advice to work everyone has to be of sound mind. If even one person isn’t, then you’re going to be left with a bigger problem than what you started with.
At any rate, I plan to give you a mixture of both personal stories and blended family coping solutions and advice. So, hopefully you’ll find this blog both entertaining and informative.