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I’ve held off on writing this post because I didn’t want it to sound like another angry post. In my effort to remain positive about my blended family situation I now TRY to avoid posts filled with anger, name-calling and just pure hate. Having said that, every now and then I just have to let out a frustrated scream…”ahhhhhhhhhh”

Background Information

At the end of October me, my husband, his ex-wife and her current husband attended a family mediation session. The divorce mediator that my husband and his ex-wife were using suggested that K (their son/my stepson) see a child psychologist based on the information that she was provided with during their sessions. The child psychologist that they chose is also a family mediator as she deals with my children from divorced families. She insisted on all of us having a few sessions, prior to her seeing K, in order to get a better understanding of the issues that he might be faced with.

It was an extremely tense environment because we had not been in the same room in about 6 years! However, I entered the session with a very open mind as I was very interested in Y’s (husband’s ex-wife) viewpoints. I really wanted to know why she felt the need to alienate K from his family for the past year. I thought to myself that maybe she does have a valid reason for doing so. Maybe, just maybe we have just been misunderstanding each other this entire time. Honestly, I knew that this was far from the truth, but I was still hopeful.

At any rate, if you readers can remember some of my earlier post in which I indicated that K had done something that was very wrong and raised a lot of concern for not only M’s (my bio son) well-being, but his as well. This was the basic reason for us seeing the child psychologist. The psychologist started by asking this basic question; “What are your concerns?” Below are our answers in the order that we gave them.

Me: I’m very concerned because we ALWAYS focus on how K feels about something or Y feels about how K is going to feel that we seem to forget that there are two children in this blended family. And, I have to focus on M’s well-being as well. While I am extremely concerned about BOTH children one did something wrong (K) and one did not (M). Therefore, I have to make sure that both are okay, especially the one that I am raising full-time in my home. This not only pertains to this particular situation, but any situation in our blended family. I think that Y thinks that because she shares a child with my husband I must consider his “wants” over my child’s needs, and I just can’t do that. I want to be respected as a mother, and more importantly, I need a little understanding when it comes to us making decisions for both children.

Y: It’s not that I base my actions on lack of concern for M. I just don’t ever know what’s going on (This is such a lie). I feel so in the dark. I don’t know how M is feeling or what his needs are, but I do know my child’s needs and I have to base my decisions primarily off of that.

Her Husband: I just want to make sure K isn’t treated differently when he goes back to their house based on what he has done. He’s very sorry for what he did, and I’m confident that it will never happen again.

My Husband: No one is going to treat him any differently. My wife loves K and would never do anything to hurt him, no matter what. All of her actions up until this point have been solely based on concern for K and nothing else. I just want to know when my son can come back to see his family.

Before I go on, let me say that Y is so full of …She claims to be in the dark, but we tell her everything knowing that it ALWAYS leads to some long contentious court battle. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t even be here (attending family mediation) had we not revealed to you what occurred in our home. It’s the reason we’ve been going through this mess for a year because we told you what had occurred. So, how do you feel in the dark? And, you say that your decisions aren’t based on lack of concern for M…please. You have directly stated that you don’t have to be concerned about M, and you’re right. But guess what, that can’t apply to me because I’m M’s mother. You also stated that you have no idea how certain things affect M because we don’t tell you..another lie. For example, remember when we told you that it was disruptive to the start of M’s school year to have K here for an entire month, at the very beginning of the school year? We said that for any child, after being out of school all summer, it takes a minute to get back into the school year routine, and having K here just hampers that. We thought that you’d understand since 3 years earlier you took my husband to court to prohibit him from making his morning phone call to K on the very basis that it disrupts his morning routine!!! Now if a two minute phone call can disrupt K’s morning routine, what in the hell do you think having K here for an entire month, at the beginning of the school year, does to M’s routine? Instead, we requested June and July, instead of June and August. You said that you didn’t care how it affected M, and you told everyone, including the Judge, that we said that K was a disruption to our lives, instead of telling them what was really said.

As you can see I was nothing short of flabbergasted and pissed when I heard what came out of her mouth. The whole point of mediation is to uncover the TRUTH so that we can all begin to work towards some sort of compromise and solution. It’s not to lie because when you do that we just end up spinning our wheels.

It’s so funny how she and her husband claim to be so very concerned about how K is going to feel or be treated when he returns to our home based on his wrong-doing. Number one, they don’t know me AT ALL. I would never stop loving either one of my sons based on a mistake that they made. Number two, K and I had a great relationship (I say had because I haven’t seen him in over a year. His mother will not allow me to have any contact with him because she thinks that my potential actions might have a detrimental effect on his mental health). Number three, my mind doesn’t operate like hers. I would never do harm or have any disregard for a child, even if he or she is not mine. Through it all, no one asked K how he felt, until yesterday. My husband had his normal 5 hour per month visit with K and asked K if he had any questions regarding what has happened. His response: “I don’t know why a Judge would say that I can’t see my family. I just don’t understand.” My husband said that the Judge based his ruling on what your mother said. K replied, “why does mom not want me to see my step mom?” My husband told him that it was her way of protecting him. K’s exact words, “That’s crazy, she (he’s talking about me) would never do anything to hurt me.”

I’m so happy that K still feels that love that I’ve instilled in him since he was 4 years old (he’ll be 12 next month). He knows that I love him, despite what his mother says or has done. He knows that I’d never hurt him or treat him differently just because he did something wrong. It just hurts me that I can’t be the one to reinforce this notion to him. More importantly, it vehemently disgusts me that Y is alienating K from his family just because she can’t get her way. But, there really is nothing I can do about that. All I can do is continue to love him the way I know how. My husband and I will continue to negate whatever his mother says via our actions. And, we will continue to pray that God grants her some sort of peace so that we all can be free of this unnecessary stress.

A relationship between a father and child is just as important as a relationship between mother and child after the divorce. It’s no secret that relationships with fathers and children seemingly deteriorate post-divorce. After speaking with many fathers and witnessing my own husband’s anguish as a result of seeing his relationship diminish between him and his son; I now know that there are definitely two sides to every story, and every divorced dad is not irresponsible or disinterested. There are many obstacles that a father can and often does face when trying to maintain a positive relationship with his child. The constant conflict about child support, an ex-wife’s anger and/or parental alienation, maternal bias in court and much more, sometimes makes it impossible for fathers to maintain healthy relationships with their children. Through it all, once again, the individuals who suffer the most are the children. As such, they have something to say about their relationships with their fathers.

The results were taken from that same study in the last ‘what children want you to know’ article (read it to gain clarity). When both adult and minor children, of all ages, were asked about their relationships with their fathers, they had the following to say.

Remarriage

Some felt as if their relationships with their fathers had deteriorated since the divorce and were unequivocally upset about it. Blame came in all variations; from the divorce itself, to a remarriage, to the father, to a stepmother to new stepsiblings.  Often times children feel as if they are being replaced when their father remarries. Therefore, it is essential that fathers are allowed to continue to foster their relationship with their children post-divorce. It is equally imperative that fathers continue to put forth the effort to do so.  When a divorced dad remarries, jealously is to be expected. If it’s expected, then it won’t catch you off guard and you can deal with it before it gets out of hand. It is essential that you make your bio-children feel like they are apart of the family, as well as make them feel as if they are still important and special to you. If your bio-children don’t live with you, be sure to maintain regular contact with them. Call them regularly, send a little gift (it doesn’t have to be expensive, it can be a card) to remind me that you’re still there for them and that you love them. Sometimes, bio-children need some alone time as well. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to achieve this when there are step-children involved. A father must consider how sensitive the situation is for ALL of the children involved. However, an easy solution is to spend time alone with your bio-children when your step-children are visiting their bio-parent or extended family. At one point in my own blended family, my husband, sons and I sat down and scheduled date nights that consisted of alone time with both of our children and each other. Our children were happy to be apart of the arrangement, knew what to expect and therefore, didn’t feel the least bit slighted when each got their alone time. Children often times just want to be included (when possible) in on the decision making process that undoubtedly affects them in some way.

Another group actually blamed their fathers for the deteroriation in their relationship after the divorce. This group of older children reported that financial and lifestyle changes often dictated their decision to erase their fathers from their lives. Most went from houses to apartments, had to help take care of siblings because their moms had to work extra jobs to make ends meet and often witnessed their mothers’ anguish about finances. All while their remarried dad was living it up with the new family. They couldn’t understand why step-mom got to sport designer bags and clothing, live in elaborate homes and drive the finest cars, but they (his children) had to worry about money to sign up for cheerleading, basketball or other extra curricular activities. Or why their mom couldn’t afford shoes or clothing. HIS wife and their children weren’t suffering, so why should they have to? It just didn’t make sense to them, and as a result, they just wrote their fathers off altogether.

Fathers pay your child support! Just as much as your children deserve relationships with both parents, they also deserve to be financially supported by both parents as well. It is okay if you choose to get remarried, have more children and/or even father someone else’s, but don’t forget about those that you left behind. As a matter of fact, they should never be left behind; they are your children! Your children should always feel as if they can count on you, in every sense of the word.

Some of the group blamed their mothers for the change in their relationships with their fathers; claiming that their mothers’ words and fathers’ actions never seemed to add up. Their mothers would tell them or imply that their fathers’ didn’t care about them anymore, but their fathers were calling them every night (if they weren’t allowed to see them, for whatever reason), telling them how much he loved and missed them. When this group of children were allowed, usually via court intervention, to have relationships with their fathers, they quickly realized that the person that their mothers’ described was not that person at all. Most of this group was able to reconnect with their fathers when their mothers’ interaction was no longer necessary.

Some of the group members’ relationships got better after the divorce. This is the portion of the group that was allowed to maintain regular, equal contact with their fathers; spending two days a week and every other weekend with dad. I must also note that the parents of this group cooperated to co-parent their children effectively.  Even when mom, dad or both remarried, the childrens’ relationships with either parent seemed to go unscathed. These children often viewed their step-parents and step or half siblings as an added bonus rather than a threat.

Limited Contact Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Losing the Relationship

There were some children who could not see their fathers as regularly as they wanted to. Often times this was due to distance; either mom or dad moving away due to a job or remarriage. However, a portion of these children didn’t feel any less connected to their fathers as a result. These children were apart of their dad’s life, had unlimited access to their fathers and felt completely loved by their fathers. Their fathers made it perfectly clear that they were interested in their lives and wanted their children to be apart of their lives. They called them consistently and inquired about school grades and activities. This group managed to have close relationships with their dads despite the distance.  As a result, it isn’t always true that fathers who have limited contact with their children will totally lose their relationships.

In conclusion, maintaining a relationship with dad post-divorce calls for cooperation on both mom and dad’s part. Mothers should never prevent their children from having a relationship with their father due to their own issues. In the longrun, it only creates more issues for the children. Mothers are in a position to either help facilitate contact or make it very very difficult. It’s unfortunate that most choose the latter because these children all agreed that consistent contact is beneficial in maintaining that emotional bond that they long for with their fathers. And fathers should never give up on maintaining relationships with their children because it gets a little difficult. Although you may have to modify your relationship with your children; it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to develop meaningful relationships with them just because they don’t reside with you full-time, or as much as you’d like.  Make good use of email, cell phones, online photos and even webcams to communicate consistently with your children. Your relationships with them and your children will be better as a result.

I had a long conversation with a reader, Amy, a few weeks ago. Some of you might remember her as the outspoken ex-wife who wasn’t too happy about my Wives Wars article and didn’t hesitate to let me know. However, through our written dialogue, she raised a very good question – “Why does it seem like it [the blended family] is always about mom and step-mom raising the kids while dad just kicks back and watches?” Although I referenced a similar notion in that article [“If we can get the women to act like adults (usually men will follow suit), then we’re more than half way there”]. I never deeply pondered Amy’s question until she brought it to my attention.

Because so much of the breakdown in communication occurs between the wives, I think it’s necessary to examine potential reasons why this happens.

There has been tons of research on the topic of how women and men communicate differently. Women tend to lead with their emotions, and men would rather lead with facts and logic (so they say). When it comes to women and their children, they are born with a protective instinct that can be compared to a mama bear and her cubs. Often times this instinct is based on an emotional response to the situation instead of being based fact and logic. As such, when the second wife enters the picture, many ex-wives react to their inability to control the situation, and when one loses control, fear sets in. When fear sets in, anything having to do with logic and fact goes out the window. All that woman is concerned about is protecting her children from someone that she doesn’t know. And, don’t expect her to trust her ex-husband’s judgment because in her eyes, he doesn’t use good judgment. This is called the mama bear syndrome.

I can relate to the mama bear syndrome as I experienced it myself when my ex suddenly remarried. Although my ex had only known his current wife for a very short time before they married, and my ex spent most of the year out the country; thereby he lacked the experience in raising our child. I still don’t know if my initial reaction [feeling a bit threatened by her presence] would’ve been any different. To me, his current wife symbolized the end of my son’s family. His parents would never be back together again, and consciously or unconsciously, that’s what every child wants at some point in their lives. Not to mention that now my ex would now be primarily taking advice from her, about MY child; a child that she didn’t even know. Although I wanted my life with my ex to change (that’s why we broke up in the first place), I didn’t want my son’s world, as he knew it, to drastically change. As a result, I will honestly admit that I didn’t give her much of a chance in the beginning. But, I had to take a step back, check myself and realize that (1) it wasn’t about me (2) this is the woman that he chose and the ring indicated that she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon (3) it doesn’t matter how sudden their marriage was, maybe she could be a positive integral part of our son’s life (4) I was pre-judging her, instead of getting to know her for myself.

The next reason that the wives seem to keep the war going is what I like to call emotional baggage. Usually this is something that many ex-wives have so much trouble letting go of. Emotional baggage consists of those irrational thoughts such as; she [second wife] is going to replace me; my children may like being with their father more than me; now my ex won’t listen to me anymore, etc. Notice all of those me statements? You can’t have all of those me statements, but still think that it’s about your children. Don’t weigh down our plane [blended family] with your emotional baggage. Check it before getting on the plane. And, this is not Southwest, Northwest or American Airlines, you check more than one bag. Now, just because you can’t bring your emotional baggage on the plane doesn’t mean that you can not or should not deal with that baggage. You can deal with it in your own way, but not in a way that affects everybody else on the plane.

Ex-wives aren’t totally responsible for the breakdown in communication between the ex and second wife. Second wives and divorced dads also add to the conflict. Step-moms have a tendency to over do it in the beginning. Yes, it is possible to over do it. We get caught up in being the best step-mom that we can be. We get caught up in fixing “it,” because in our eyes it must be broken, that’s why the divorce occurred in the first place. As such, we also have the tendency to butt in when it’s not our right or business to do so. Step-moms need to step back and let the biological parents lead. Our job is to be there as support. Our opinions are certainly relevant and valuable, but at the end of the day, bio mom and bio dad need to be communicating the decisions that are made for their child. I always say that if (in most cases – when) we go to court, the step-parent isn’t going to be allowed to speak for his or her spouse. So, don’t start off allowing the step-parents interfere to the extent that it keeps you from civilly communicating with your ex-spouse.

My ex’s wife was guilty of this is the beginning, and it didn’t help our relationship. Every time we discussed an issue of visitation, child support or any other matter that I should have been discussing with him, I was discussing it with her. This made me resent her even more. After all, I shouldn’t have had to discuss such matters with his new wife, who had only been on the scene for a hot minute. Well, it doesn’t matter if she had been on the scene for several years. Certain matters should be handled by the biological parents. In her defense, however, I could tell that she was only trying to help, but it didn’t. Like I said, when we ended up in court, we [the biological parents] were expected to communicate our issues to the Judge and each other. She wasn’t even allowed in the court room. Therefore, I shouldn’t have been expected to discuss those issues with her outside of the courtroom.

One of the final reasons that second and ex wives can’t seem to get along is because divorced dad is all over the place. I realize that dad is automatically placed in what seems like an impossible position in the blended family. His ex-wife will often feel that his loyalty should be to her because she is the mother of his children. But, his current wife will feel that his loyalty should be to her because she is his wife. As a result, many divorced/remarried dads seem to “side with” whoever he’s talking to at that time. He’s easily led, sets no boundaries for his ex-wife and lacks control of his family. My advice to these dads is to man up. It shouldn’t be that difficult to know what to do. Your second marriage vows should be no different than your first. Your loyalty should always be to your wife! Your only responsibility is to remain an active parent in your children’s lives and treat your former wife with respect and civility. It doesn’t mean that you have to do whatever your ex-wife says. Set boundaries. She should not be allowed to wreak havoc on your marriage just because she can’t get a grip on the dissolution of her marriage and family. You are the head of your household (the one your wife lives in), so act like it. Instead of giving in to your ex-wife’s every whim, thereby making your current wife lose trust and faith in your relationship, take the appropriate measures to remain an active parent in your children’s lives. Remember, just because you married your current wife second doesn’t mean that those vows should be any less important than the first. By that same token, remember that just because you divorced your first wife doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be treated with respect. She shouldn’t be told to “get a life” just because she expresses concern for her children. Trust me, you want the mother of your children to love her children with every ounce of her being.  Just because you get married a second time doesn’t mean that she all of sudden doesn’t know what to do with HER children or that she shouldn’t continue to express concern for them. She’s glad that you’re happy, but her opinion as it relates to HER children, still counts!! They are still her babies, and if you got married ten times, that wouldn’t change – remember that!

As I listen to, speak with and lend advice to other blended family members, if they only retain one thing that I say it would be this: “If one looks deep enough into their problem, he will recognize himself as both part of the problem and part of the solution.” If I have learned nothing else, I have learned that the blame of blended family issues can not be placed solely on one person within the blended family. We ALL add to the breakdown in communication and in many cases, the demise of our blended families. The problem is that we want one person to take responsibility for it. But, we all have to hold ourselves accountable and be responsible for the mistakes that we make within this family structure. If we all focus on ourselves (I know, it sounds selfish) instead of each other, then our hearts and minds will be more free to focus on our children.

 

 

I recently asked an attorney and fellow blogger, to shed some light (from an attorney’s perspective) on the topic of mediation. I’m sure you’ll find it insightful!

 

 

What is Mediation?

 

Mediation is the process by which two (or more) parties attempt to settle a legal dispute with the assistance of a neutral third party (mediator) whose job is to help the parties work out points of agreement and reach a “fair” result that they both can live with. More and more, mediation has become the preferred means of legal dispute resolution, and has become particularly popular in resolving domestic relations disputes (divorce, child custody, visitation, etc.) because it frees up courtroom dockets and tends to produce results that are more agreeable to the parties. In fact, most judges will now order men and women to participate in mediation before he/she will hear and decide issues in dispute in a divorce or child support/custody situation.

 

Mediation Process

For anyone who has never had the joy of going through a mediation, this is basically how the process works.  The parties agree (or a judge orders them) to meet with a mediator.  Mediators are specially trained individuals (often former practicing lawyers and judges) who are familiar with the law, but whose job is guide the parties toward agreement.  Mediators are paid by the hour, and usually the parties split the cost of the mediator (but are still responsible for their respective attorneys’ fees).  There is usually a three room set up; one room for all parties and their respective counsel to initially meet together, and then two rooms where the parties will stay in for the duration of the mediation.  After the initial meeting of the parties and “opening statements” where the parties state their issues and positions, each party goes to their respective rooms.  The mediator meets with each party in turn, discussing the demands of the parties, the strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions, and ultimately tries to get the parties to reach a middle ground.  The key principal that the mediator is working from, and attempts to get the parties to realize, is their BATNA — Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement.  Basically, the BATNA is what is most likely to happen if the parties are unable to reach a settlement, and typically is a worse outcome than one that the parties arrive at on their own.

 

Why Mediation?

So why mediation instead of just letting a judge make a decision?  The truth of the matter is that judges don’t like making decisions for people. But that seems like their job, right? Yes and no. Yes, judges can make decisions by applying the letter of the law, but it’s preferable that the parties reach an agreement/settlement on their own and the judge merely approves such an agreement. The reason for this is that strict application of the law often times leads to a situation where you are splitting the baby. This is even more so the case where domestic legal disputes are involved because often times, the parties aren’t just fighting over who gets the kids on what holidays or what school the child should go to….. the issues are much deeper, more intangible, less rational, and a judge just does not have the time to deal with all of those issues.  Mediators, on the other hand, are trained to deal with these issues, particularly family law mediators.   In fact, family law mediators are required to go through special training in addition to the regular mediation certification course so that they know how to deal with the unique issues that arise in family law disputes. 

Does it Work?

 

So does mediation actually work?  Yes and no.  In theory, both parties will be rational participants and the mediator will assist them in sorting through the emotional baggage to help them determine what the real issues are in the situation….. separate the wheat from the chaff.   Ideally both parties will compromise so that the result is a win-win situation.  Anyone who has been through a divorce or dispute with child custody/support knows, however, that this is the last place to look for rational people.  Because reaching a decision in a mediation is entirely voluntary (contrasted with arbitration, where the arbitrator does have the power to make a binding decision) a party can continue to drag his/her feet, be difficult, and basically stick to his/her agenda of making the other person’s life as difficult as possible.   In the non-family law setting, the primary consideration is money, so the avoidance of litigation costs serves as effective leverage.  When there are feelings involved, however, creating excessive costs of litigation may be a motivating factor.  Rationality goes out the window, and with that the potential efficiency and benefits of mediation.

Keep in Mind…..

 

One key principle that parents and ex-spouses should keep in mind is that the legal system is not the place to deal with hurt feelings.  The purpose of the legal system, including the mediation process, is to provide resolution to true legal disputes, not to avenge wrongdoing, seek validation, or keep the other party in a person’s life (as dysfunctional as that involvement is).  Mediation has the potential to produce positive results, but both parties must have the desire to compromise and come to an amicable conclusion in order for it to work.  It is somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy– if the parties believe it’s not going to work, then it’s not, and vice versa. 

 

  

 

 

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