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I have an issue that I’d like to reach out to the BFSO Advisory Board (that’s you readers, by the way) for advice on. It’s about my ex and his relationship with our son. Most of you know, by reading the blog, that my ex is an overseas basketball player and has been since I was pregnant with our son. As such, he’s been living out of the country ever since our son was born and he’s now 11. As a result, they pretty much don’t have a meaningful relationship. My ex wants to change that and so do I, but we clash on how to do so. He is only in the states about 8 weeks, maybe a little more on occasion, out of the entire year and has been since I was pregnant. Therefore, my son has never had the opportunity to develop a meaningful bond with him. It took my son a long while before he actually wanted to go over to their house, without being forced.  Over the past few years, however, it has gotten better; especially since his wife and son stay behind while he goes to Spain to play basketball. It has allowed my son to spend more time in his second home, with his second mom and little brother. Now, he loves to spend as much time with them [his second mom and brother] as he can, and I certainly don’t mind. As a matter of fact, my husband and I are both very happy that he asks to go over every weekend, holiday or whenever he has a break from school. It confirms that his second mom really makes him feel at home when he’s there.  I thank God for that…what a relief! The problems occur when my ex returns for his 8 week visit. My son almost instantly withdraws and doesn’t want to go over.  Last summer, he even said, “I’ll just wait until dad leaves before I go over there again.” When I asked him why he said that he just didn’t feel comfortable when his dad was there. He said that he’d like for him (his dad) to get to know him better.

Let me explain…my son is a highly intelligent, straight A student. He started booting up the computer (on his own) and playing educational games at age 18 months, putting together 100 piece puzzles before age 2 and reading, fluently, by age 3. He’s our brainiac who loves anything having to do with science. Some of our conversations are even over my head! Additionally, he’s the sweetest, most kind-hearted, compassionate, wise individual (not kid, but person) that you’d ever meet. Most people (his teachers, friends’ parents, etc) literally compare him to Ghandi. His bio-dad, on the other hand, is a jock. He’s the professional basketball player, who like most (I don’t mean to stereotype, but it’s true) are self-absorbed individuals, who think that world starts and stops around their schedule because they play basketball. Are you starting to see how the two completely clash??

With that said, I can really tell, especially since my ex is getting older and finally growing up, that he desires a more meaningful relationship with our son. But, he wants our son to do so on his terms. He thinks that by forcing him to stay the entire summer (the 8 weeks that he’s here) that their relationship will automatically improve. I told him that forcing him would potentially do more harm than good. By the time my son gets over the shock of being forced to stay in an environment that he’s not comfortable in, it’s time for the ex to skip town again, for a year, and they get to do it all over again the next summer. I explained to him that forcing him to be with him will not do any good until he decides to stay put for more than 8 weeks in the summer. Additionally, being a parent is much more than just having him in the house with you. You have to spend time with him and even do things that he wants to do at times.  And, because you’ve never had an opportunity to bond, alone time is essential as well.  My ex just doesn’t get it at this point. I will say, however, that I can really tell that he’s making a concerted effort to understand where I’m coming from. I’m so happy that although we don’t agree on everything or even always understand each other’s points of view, we both talk about it like adults and then attempt to work out an optimal solution. And, at the end of the day, we both really want what’s best for our son. What a blessing to have finally arrived at this point!

My question for the BFSO Advisory Board is, should I force my son to stay the 8 weeks in the summer, if he doesn’t want to? Legally, I am not obligated to do so because the judge ordered that he give 60 days notice prior to arriving in the states, which he has never done because he said that he just can’t. However, I’m always flexible with the parenting time schedule and allow my son to see his dad and/or second mom as much as he wants. My thoughts are that if dad were doing everything that he was supposed to do, we wouldn’t have to force him. I’ve told him to call regularly, not just from time to time. Use email to communicate with him on a regular basis. I even suggested a webcam for more frequent contact. But, he’s acted on none of my suggestions. Why should I be flexible and bend over backwards to achieve this goal [my son spending more time with him], and why should my son be forced to be uncomfortable, if dad can’t hold up his end of the bargain? Whether it be because he can’t or isn’t willing? What do you readers think?

Blending a family isn’t easy and it can present a unique set of challenges when discipline is concerned. Co-parenting requires not only cooperation between the responsible parents, but it also requires consistent discipline. Often times even biological parents will have differing views when it comes to disciplining their child. But, these differences are usually magnified times 10 within the blended family unit. They can sometimes destroy a marriage, if they aren’t properly dealt with from the beginning.

*Co-Parenting means that with one another, together, both parents should parent all the children in the household.

Initially, I would suggest that the primary role of disciplinarian be awarded to the biological parent. Keep in mind that the child has had years of dealing with one parent’s approach to discipline and will need time to adjust. Therefore, issues such as: room cleaning, bed times, homework time, curfews, etc., should be left up to his/her biological parent. Having said that, there are certain behaviors that should not be tolerated by either parent, from the very beginning. For example, if little Tiffany is mouthing off, rolling eyes, talking back or being plain old disrespectful, her stepfather shouldn’t have to wait until her mother gets home before reprimanding her. If she was doing this at school or anywhere else that respect for adults and authority figures is expected, there would be consequences. And, that teacher would not wait until mom or dad showed up to enforce those consequences. As stated in my other articles, “it is essential that you demand the same positive behavior that the child had prior to the divorce.” Otherwise you will be giving the child an excuse (the divorce) to act out. She shouldn’t be allowed to be disrespectful because she doesn’t like her new stepparent and/or is still bitter about the divorce. The adults in the house should always retain their roles as adults and should never reverse those roles out of guilt.

At any rate, during the “grace period,” parents should develop a co-parenting policy that should help decrease conflict when it comes to discipline and other issues of the household. The policy should contain the following: bed times, homework time, dinner time, curfews, household chores, allowances, etc. It should also contain mutually agreed upon rules and consequences. This policy should be discussed, in depth, with each child of the household. This will ensure that each child knows what is expected of them and the consequences of broken rules. Therefore, it is essential that both parents stick to the policy at all times. In the blended family, you cannot rely on spontaneous reaction to the child’s behavior problem. This policy will also help you, as parents, present a unified front when it comes to discipline, thereby decreasing conflict between you when these issues arise.

More Tips

  1. Don’t expect your step-child/ren to instantly love or even like you. Children need time to adjust to the loss (in a way) of a parent as well as a world that they have always known. Be respectful of their feelings and try to avoid forced relationships.
  2. Keep parental conflict, disagreements and inconsistent discipline away from children. Being exposed to the above can cause emotional and behavioral problems. Children begin to think that they can do whatever they want. When this happens, they begin to implement their “divide and conquer” strategy by telling the other parent, grandparent, aunt, or whoever will listen, what the mean old stepparent did to them.
  3. Always remain a parent and never reverse those roles out of guilt. Mostly moms have a difficult time with this one because they don’t want anybody scolding (even if necessary) their baby. As such, they will begin to make excuses like, “she just cursed you out because she’s hormonal.” When you make excuses for what you know to be bad, inappropriate and/or unacceptable behavior, you are no longer being the parent.
  4. Don’t try to replace the child/ren’s biological parent. Although it may be difficult at times, children need to have their relationships with their biological parents supported by you. You are to act as an additional parental figure, but not attempt to totally replace the other parent.
  5. NEVER EVER allow any and everybody to come in and discipline your child/ren! Matters of discipline should only be entertained by individuals who you will be in a committed marital relationship with. Doing anything else will be creating an unstable environment for your child/ren. That person may not even be around tomorrow. This will not only help to build resentment towards you, but for any future mate whom you do decide to actually tie the knot with.
  6. Before you even think about allowing someone else to step in and co-parent with you, ask yourself these questions:
  • What kind of expectations do you and your potential spouse have of each other?
  • How do you view each others’ roles in your new family?
  • How will decisions, regarding your family, be made?

Finally, don’t take everything too personally, and don’t always assume that your child’s behavior issues are due to your new blended family. I often made this mistake myself, but I’ve learned that children are going to be children. Just because your child stomps out of the room acting as if you tore his or her whole world a part, doesn’t mean that they literally feel that way. It also doesn’t mean it’s because you remarried. My parents were married for nearly 30 years prior to my father’s passing, and they were both my biological parents. Yet, I can remember stomping out of the room; saying (to myself) I hate you; and feeling like they were both so unfair when consequences were enforced. As such, be mindful that these things would likely happen if you were married to your child’s biological parent, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember, that your job as parents is to attempt to raise responsible adults. It is not about getting them to approve of all of your choices.

All of my posts have mainly been about one side of my dysfunctional blended family, and that’s the side that includes my husband, his ex-wife, and their son.  Because I never want to insinuate that all my blended family issues are unilateral in nature, I feel it’s only fair to discuss the other side of my blended family. Although we don’t have nearly as many problems with my ex as we do with my husband’s, there’s still quite a bit to talk about.

So, now let’s talk about my ex, who is my son’s biological father. The reason I emphasize that he is my son’s biological father is because when I do refer to my son’s father most know that I am referring to the man that has raised him for the past 7 of his 11 years, and that’s my husband.

At any rate, my ex is a professional basketball player (overseas) who has been physically absent from my son’s life since he was in the womb.  We were together for nearly 6 years, including the first few years of my son’s life, but we parted ways when my son was 3 years old. Even though we were technically together for the first few years of our son’s life, my son never saw him as daddy because we lived in separate countries for 10 months out of the year. When I met my current husband is when my son finally started to experience life with a full-time father, and my ex was livid. He didn’t want another man to be involved with his son in a way that he couldn’t be out of fear that he might be replaced, and he surely was. My husband became actively involved in my son’s life. He coached him in basketball, baseball and soccer; attended school plays; had father/son time which is still referred to as bachelor night; and overall, was a prominent male figure in his life. After about 2 years my son started referring to my husband as dad. At that point, my ex’s ego had gotten the best of him and he petitioned the court claiming that I was keeping my son away from him and teaching him to call another man dad. However, he neglected to reveal to the Judge that his only involvement, since birth, in my son’s life was/is 8 weeks out of every year. Furthermore, he also didn’t tell the Judge that he lied to the court about how much money he was making so that he didn’t have to pay a fair amount of child support. Additionally, he had never attended a soccer, basketball, baseball game, school play, teacher’s conference, nor had he ever taken him to the doctor, attended a birthday party or any other normal activity that real parents participate in. So, my attorney and I decided that we would just let him hang himself as we knew the Judge would ask such questions, and she did.

The Judge was appauled by the fact that my ex had wasted all of our time bringing such a matter to court knowing that he was not nor had he ever been a father to my son. She told him that it was bad enough that he could not be physically present in his son’s life, but he had enough nerve to try to cheat him financially, and try to enforce ridiculous rules on my life (meaning, he couldn’t call any other man dad, but him). The Judge bascially laughed after throwing the book at him and calling him a poor excuse for a man.  As a result, my ex is partly financially responsible for my son’s daily care, but he is still physically absent from his life. Although he still struggles with another man raising his son, after 7 years he is learning to accept it. We don’t have nearly as many heated unproductive discussions about it now as we did 7 years ago.

But, now we are entering the next phase of our blended family which I will call unanswered questions. I always told my ex to be careful of the decisions that he made regarding our son because he wasn’t always going to be a baby. I explained to him that when he got older he was going to have questions regarding his absence from his life. Well, at age 11, we have now arrived at that point. My son wants to know why everyone and everything else has always been more important than him. And although he loves his stepmom (who we’ll talk about in another post) and his little half brother, he is very angry with and disappointed in his biological father. So, my husband and I constantly reassure him that he has a mother and a father who adore him and have always been and will always be there for him. I used to try and tell him that his biological father still loves him even though he is not present, but that doesn’t work anymore. Additionally, I don’t feel like I should have to make excuses for his behavior. He needs to be telling him the things that my husband and I do. As such, my husband and I only speak for ourselves and reaffirm our love for him.

So here’s a message to all of you father’s out there: Remember that if the choices you make regarding your child turn out to negatively affect him, it’s nobody’s fault but yours. Don’t blame your ex and tell everyone that she’s keeping the child away from you. Instead, take responsibility for your actions, be consistent in your child’s life and communicate with your ex.

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