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We’ve talked quite a bit about our moms and stepmoms; now I want to shift our focus to our dads. Dads also play a major role in the breakdown in communication within the blended family. This post will focus on how it affects their immediate blended family; meaning, second wife, remarried dad, his children, her children and sometimes, their children together.

I was watching the Tyra Banks Show last week and she was talking about her experience, as a child, with divorce. She said that when she went to her dad’s house there weren’t really any rules because he was way more lenient than her mom. As a result, she admitted that she had more attitude with her dad and more respect for her mom. A very common problem that divorced dads have is the need to be “best buddies” with their child. I call this The Funhouse Syndrome.

Many fathers have said, “I see him so little; I don’t want to waste time being his disciplinarian.” This is one of the many problems that I experienced with my husband and his son, during the beginning of our relationship. My husband’s guilt (divorced dads need to accept that guilt determines most of their poor parenting decisions with their child) often led him to believe that the rules of our house somehow didn’t apply to his son the same way they did to mine. For example, our children were very young when we got together, and like most parents, we tried to teach them the art of sharing. But when K (his son) didn’t feel like doing so, that rule was automatically null and void. Another example is I would tell K not to do something, but he did it, sneakily, anyway. Any other time my husband was a stickler for being out right defiant; we both were, but when K was being defiant (with me), we ALWAYS had to hear him out. In my opinion, some things are just black and white. If I tell you not to do something and you do it anyway, you are being defiant, and I don’t have to listen to the reason why. At any rate, K’s reason would ALWAYS be that he just wanted his parents to be back together again. This, in turn, automatically caused my husband to melt, allowing K to avoid the consequences of his actions.

Children are encouraged to blame the divorce for whatever unhappiness they feel, thereby giving them an excuse for their actions, when parents condone negative behavior. As I’ve stated in many other articles, our goal as parents (divorced or not) is to raise responsible adults. Therefore, divorced dads need to demand the same positive behavior from their child that they expected prior to the divorce. Not only do children need guidance, but having house rules that they are expected to abide by, makes them feel more apart of your household. Rules and expectations, believe it or not, make your child feel more safe and secure as well as creates a level of respect for BOTH divorced dad and second wife. It also makes your household run more cohesively because EVERYONE knows what to expect. When everyone knows what to expect you can avoid those unnecessary arguments revolving around things like: “why does this rule apply to M, but not to K?” What worked for us was creating a co-parenting policy.  I talked about this policy in a previous article. It’s a policy that lists all of the rules and consequences of the house. Sit down with the kids in your household, both biological and step, and explain the rules and consequences of the house. This way stepmom, divorced dad and blended children know what to expect.

Divorced dads need to remember that their child(ren) look to them for the example, therefore it is important to retain that role as dad so that their child(ren) have a positive example of what a dad and husband should be.  Dads, to their child(ren), are men of strength and courage. They make them feel safe and secure by offering love, support and GUIDANCE. They don’t allow their child(ren) to manipulate or guide them! Remain a parent and NEVER reverse that role out of guilt.

Another example that I experienced in my blended family that contributes to the Funhouse Syndrome is when it was always a party when the “part-timer” came over. In the beginning, every time K came over we had to have a big celebration. We did Chuck E Cheese, Great Times, he got video games, went to movies, etc. whenever K came over. This alone is not necessarily a problem, but it becomes a problem when such activity is the basis of your relationship. That child will only associate getting toys, going to movies, Chuck E Cheese, etc., with his visitation with you. This fosters the funhouse syndrome, which in turn, creates a VERY spoiled child. Why? Because that child will EXPECT you to entertain and provide his or her with their WANTS every time he or she visits.  No parent should want this type of relationship with their child, and they shouldn’t aim to raise this type of adult either. This type of negative parenting can also cause a rift between the biological and step-children. Children are much smarter than we give them credit for and will sense when one sibling is receiving preferential treatment over the other, no matter what the reason is. All in all, this treatment must be avoided in order to maintain a household that revolves around fairness. Just remember that all the children are hurting as a result of the divorce, not just your respective children. Both parents must consider the best interest of all of the children in the blended family, not just their own. You can not maintain a marriage or operate as a family in any other way.

As I’ve said many times before, I understand the divorced dad’s plight. It isn’t easy being suddenly separated from your child. You don’t get to see them as often as ex-wife, who is usually the custodial parent, does. As a result, you often feel the need to overcompensate. Many feel that since they couldn’t keep his  parents together, they can at least shower him with gifts and leniency during visitation. But, divorced dads must keep in mind that divorce creates so much confusion and feelings of abnormality in a child’s life. As such, the greatest gift you can give your child is the gift of normalcy – a normal household. A household that has lots of love, support, affection and yes, even sometimes material things. But, it also has rules, consequences and guidance! Even in a blended family, parents should always aim to raise responsible, independent, hopefully, compassionate, people. We don’t want to raise self-absorbed creatures who are continually encouraged to use their parents’ divorce as a crutch and excuse for their anger or actions. I agree so much with Diane when she declares that CHILDREN LIVE WHAT THEY LEARN! Don’t use your own issues with the divorce as an excuse not to be parent. Either way, your children will learn from YOU! If you teach them inappropriate behavior (no matter how good your intentions are) through your overcompensating behavior, you are doing an injustice to your child.

Readers, what are some of your experiences and opinions regarding The Funhouse Syndrome? BFSO wants to hear from you!

We’ve moved to www.blendedfamilysoapopera.com. Find this post and a host of new ones at www.blendedfamilysoapopera.com.

Tuesday morning, I, Diane, was watching Good Morning America and the guest being interviewed was Alec Baldwin. He was speaking about his new book, which comes out today, entitled, “A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce.” In this book, Baldwin discusses Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), or one parent turning their child against the other. Although I believe this to be a real issue in today’s society; I will stand by the fact that some people don’t need to have children because they aren’t capable of being good parents. But for most of us, this is not the case, we just need to learn how to reconcile our feelings in order to co-parent effectively, thereby making PAS a non- issue.

 

Everyone knows that with a nasty divorce, more than likely a nasty custody battle follows. Often times the divorcing parties don’t take their child into consideration while engaged in such a battle, and as a result, he or she ends up caught in the middle. This type of behavior can lead to barriers being put up by one party which imposes on the other parent’s relationship with their child. Sometimes, like Baldwin, some almost give up and lose the will to keep fighting for their parental rights and in the end, the child suffers irreparable damage.

 

I, Kela, have watched my stepson suffer from PAS for years now. It is what motivated me to do some thorough research on the topic. Additionally, I want to be absolutely sure that I never alienate my child, even if it’s unintentionally, from his biological father. It is imperative that we understand this phenomenon so that the children caught in the middle don’t continue to suffer.

 

PAS is a complicated concept that historically has been difficult to clearly identify in court. Cases involving PAS are filled with accusations and counter accusations which are eventually dismissed as nothing more than hearsay. However, psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals assert that PAS is much more than hearsay and there are signs and symptoms that one can look for in order to identify it. Below are some criteria that you can follow to determine whether or not PAS is an issue for your blended family.

 

Access and Contact Blocking

Access and contact blocking involves the active blocking of access or contact between the child and absent parent. Most mothers will try to defend their actions by claiming that they are just trying to protect the child. She may argue that the absent parent’s parental judgment is substandard and, therefore the child is much worse off from the visit. Access and contact blocking usually occurs when the alienator feels attacked and/or is trying to prove a point. It is a form of control that has nothing to do with protecting the child; but, has more to do with protecting their own ego.

 

In my (Kela) case, if my husband and his ex-wife don’t agree (which is all of the time) on a matter that pertains to their son, the first thing she does is block phone contact and visitation. There is no discussion and my husband has no control. Her claim is ALWAYS that she’s just protecting her son’s mental health. She will also appear to be trying to work towards a solution. But, while they are working towards the solution SHE determines whether or not my husband will see his child. My husband went 6 months without seeing his child and has only seen him 15 hours (5 hours per month) in the last year. Crack heads get more time than this with their children! In her eyes, they are only working together if he agrees with her.

 

Access and contact blocking can also come in the form of the alienator working to limit contact with the parent as well. This is often done when the alienator claims that other events (birthday parties, funerals, weddings, ect.) should take precedence over visitation with the targeted parent. The message to the child when this occurs is that the absent parent is treated less like an important family member and more like an annoying acquaintance that the child must see at times. This type of behavior can have a detrimental effect on the child’s relationship with the absent parent.

 

Emotional Abuse Allegations

False emotional abuse allegations is another very common form of PAS. Often times what actually occurs in a difference in opinion that the alienator frames as “emotionally abusive.” For example, one parent may let the child stay up later than the other. Or one parent might introduce a new significant other to the child before the other parent feels that he or she should. Both examples reflect a difference of parental opinion that is now described as emotional abuse by the alienator. Although these examples may seem insignificant, it is a suggestive theme of how the alienator uses difference of opinion to keep the child away from the absent parent.

 

Deterioration in Relationship Since Separation

The least identified, but one of the most important criteria is the deterioration of the relationship between the non-residential parent and the child since separation. It has to do with the existence of a positive relationship between the minor child and the nonresidential parent, prior to the marital separation; and a considerable deterioration, of it since then. If a father has a good and involved relationship with his child prior to the divorce, and is clearly trying to maintain a positive relationship with their child; but there has been a substantial change in their relationship since the divorce, one can naturally assume that alienation has occurred. Healthy and established parental relationships do not erode naturally of their own accord. THEY MUST BE ATTACKED! As such, any dramatic change in this area almost always indicates that the alienation process has had some success. If this puzzle piece is left out in court, the court can be easily fooled into thinking that the existing relationship is representative of the true parent-child relationship. It isn’t an easy feat to correct this perception, once it’s been determined by the court. I (Kela) believe that this is the reason why Judges often group all absent fathers into the category of “deadbeat.”

 

I (Diane) was guilty of alienating my son from his father. I was hell bent on trying to prove something to him because he hurt ME, not my son. Sometimes we confuse lashing out because we’re hurt with trying to protect our children. At any rate, I alienated my son from his father for 6 years. When I finally did come to my senses and realized that it wasn’t about ME, my son only got to spend a year and half getting to know his father before he (his father) was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. My son was only 10. I made a HUGE mistake by convincing myself that I was protecting my son when in actuality, I was only trying to protect my own feelings.

 

The above criteria can exist together or independent of each other as well. And, if all or some of the criteria is present, but alienation is unsuccessful, it doesn’t mean that the act of alienation didn’t occur.

 

Parental Alienation is a common phenomenon in which early intervention is essential. If allowed to continue, it can be destructive to your child’s well-being and mental health. Often times, the targeted parent (usually the father) washes his hands of the situation and walks away – gives up, thus greatly increasing the chances of successful alienation.

Side Note: PAS can only occur if the targeted parent is and has been doing everything in his or her power to maintain a relationship with his or her child. Don’t claim that you’re a victim of alienation if you choose to spend a limited amount of time with your child, call him once in a blue moon and try to avoid your responsibilities as a parent.

 

Characteristics of An Alienator

  • They are obsessed with destroying their child’s relationship with the nonresidential parent.
  • They have succeeded in enmeshing the child’s personality and beliefs about the other parent with their own.
  • The child will parrot the alienator rather than express their own experiences from personal experiences with the nonresidential parent.
  • Their (alienator) beliefs often become delusional and irrational. No one, especially the court, can convince the alienator that she is wrong, and anyone who tries is the enemy.
  • They will often seek support from family members, friends, co-workers who will share their beliefs that they are victimized by the other parent. The alienator’s supporters are often seen in court hearings even though they haven’t been subpoenaed.
  • They have so much anger because they believe the nonresidential parent has victimized them and whatever they do to protect the child is justified.
  • They work so hard and sometimes succeed, in getting the court to punish the nonresidential parent with court orders that would interfere or block the parent from seeing his child.
  • The court’s authority DOES NOT intimidate them.
  • The alienator believes that she is protecting the child at all cost.
  • The alienator will not want to read this post because the content will just make her even angrier!

 

REFERENCES: The Florida Bar Journal, VOL. 73, NO. 3, MARCH 1999, p 44-48

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I also like to post my readers’ questions every now and then just to give you insight regarding everyone else’s blended family issues. I am truly not alone! Blended families are now more common than so called “traditional” families, and we experience many, many issues. Check out my reader’s issue and let me know what you think.

 Reader’s Question:

This is a GREAT article…

 

I am having a HUGE issue in my new marriage… My wife has been taking a more and more aggressive tact with my kids (7-year old twins, she has an 11-year old daughter).. It’s leading to major weekly conflict as it has gotten to the point where she only interacts with them in a disciplinary manner and not even a caring matter.It has gotten to the point this week where I said I don’t thin I can be with someone who cant at least be civil to my children and have asked her NUMEROUS times now to let me discipline my kids since her method is so harsh. We did see some of this before we married but It seems to be getting worse.Her idea of “fixing” the problem is to simply stop having the contact level we do now as a blended family. So when we have the kids, I do my thing with my kids and she does her thing with her daughter. In my view this is nothing more than AVOIDING the issue rather than trying to address it.

 Any thoughts??? HELP

My Response:

Hi,

First off, thanks so much for reading my blog as well as taking the time to leave a comment. I appreciate that because it is one of the primary reasons that I write on my blog.

 

Now on to your question…I completely understand your current situation because I was in a similar situation at the beginning of my marriage. I think often times we as parents are too consumed with our feelings that we forget to think about the children that exist within the blended family. When I married my husband, we had two boys (mine and his), both the same age and equipped with their own set of issues; mainly due to divorce and our new family. Because I spent the majority of time with the boys, I thought I just needed to get them under control. I didn’t care how they felt. I just wanted them to do as I said so that my house wasn’t a complete zoo, all of the time. In doing so, however, I will admitt that I made the problem worse. I had to realize that the world these children had known had completely changed. As such, there was going to be an adjustment period. So, I, as the adult, had to put my own feelings aside to try and help MY children through this. Simply put, I had to be more understanding and sympathetic to my children’s feelings and needs. In addition to that, my husband and I were having the same issues. What helped us to get through it was (I know you’ve heard this before) COMMUNICATION. Through my husband’s eyes I was only interacting with his son in a disciplinary manner. But, to me, there was always an issue that needed discipline, and I couldn’t just let his son do whatever he wanted to because he was hurting. I didn’t want to only interact with him in this manner. And, it didn’t help that he (my husband) was always attacking (that’s the way I felt) me when it came to the issue.

 

Usually, there is a deeper issue that causes these types of issues to manifest within the blended family. Many times it’s our insecurities that cause us to avoid looking at the entire picture. We are always quick to assume that the other parent isn’t being fair due to a non-biological connection. It’s that innate, protective instinct that we have as parents. It not only takes time for blended family children to trust us as adults, but it takes an equal amount of time for us to trust each other, especially when it comes to our respective children.

 

Having said that, I would encourage you to speak to your wife about her feelings before you give up. By that same token, make sure you convey your feelings as well. Once you’ve figured out the core issues, try creating that co-parenting policy that I talked about in the post. Remember, that you must create a household that works cohesively, from this point on. You are husband and wife, and although you had your respective children with other people, these are your children together. And, those children will need and depend on all of their parents to raise them. You must work together to solve issues of discipline.

 

I hope that I’ve helped in some way. Be sure to check back in with me to let me know how things are going. Hang in there. Believe it or not, it can get better.

 

Sincerely,

 Kela Price

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

A reader asked this question sometime ago via a magazine (Indiana Parenting) that I used to write for. It is a situation that is common in blended families (including mine at one point), so I thought I’d share her question and my response.

 

Question: I have two children with someone else, and I am married to someone who has a child with someone else. Our children have different school schedules because we live in different states. My husbands “baby mama” always wants his son with us when he’s out of school, but my children are still in school, and it is a HUGE distraction for them. They are all around the same age and get very excited when they are with each other. Therefore, my children go to school tired and unable to concentrate. So, I suggested that the visitation schedule be set up for times when all children are out of school (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, MLK Day) so that no one suffers academically. We could also increase the number of weeks he spends with us in the summer because all children are out of school then (we currently only get him for 4 out of 12 weeks) My husband’s “baby mama” said that my husband should always consider the best interest of their son first no matter who is hurt by it. Simply put, my kids aren’t his kids (even though he’s the father figure in the home who’s raising them). KP, should my husband always consider his son first even though his decisions might hurt my children?

 

Answer: At the end of the day the blended family is hard for EVERYONE involved, not just one party and their children! When there are multiple children within the blended family they all have to be considered, and COMPROMISE MUST EXIST. All the children, on either side, can’t come first all the time. If everyone is considering their child first, then all you’re going to get is a 4 car collision. If your husband’s ex-wife is suggesting that he always consider their child first, then isn’t it fair for you to do the same? So, there has to be a compromise because every child won’t, and often times, shouldn’t be first all the time. The adults must do what is logical and best for all children involved. If it is a distraction for your husband’s son to be there when school is in session, that is completely understandable, and isn’t necessary when other options exist. If his ex-wife isn’t willing to review those options, then she is being difficult. Why can’t his son visit more during the summer and during the breaks when all children are out of school, as opposed to during the school year when school breaks and schedules are conflicting?

 

My advice to you and your husband is to remember the vows that you took before God – for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and forsaken all others. Those are powerful words that mean something, and you can’t throw them out the window because his ex-wife is trying to interfere or doesn’t agree. Although it is ideal for everyone involved to have a meeting of the minds, it often times isn’t likely. Therefore, you and your husband must achieve consensus when it comes to running your household. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have to consider your children, but your husband should as you should consider his. It is also essential that you openly communicate with the children, especially his son, if schedule changes are made. You want this information to come from you and not her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was watching The Gameplan (a movie about a football player and his 8 year old daughter) this morning. Joe Kingman (the football player) met his daughter (Peyton) for the first time when she was 8 years old.  Peyton’s mom, who died in a car accident, never told Joe about his daughter. The movie is based on Joe meeting, connecting and learning how to be a dad for the first time in his life. Well, towards the end of the movie, Peyton decides that she wants to go back home with her aunt, whom her mother appointed guardianship to. She felt that she might be a distraction for Joe during his football season.  Joe became devastated, and was actually more distracted by her absence than her presence.  At one point, he asked one of his team mates who was also a dad, to tell him what to do, and the advice he gave is the advice I give to my divorced dads.

“Make sure she knows you love her and that nothing is ever going to change that. And when she’s ready, she’ll come to you, ” he said.

I often have this conversation with my husband because his son needs to hear it most. However, my husband fears countering what his mother tells him will cause confusion for his son and raise questions. His mom is often on the other end influencing him, no matter how subtle, to think otherwise. At any rate, I encourage my husband to tell his son everyday how much he loves him and how much he wants him to be with us, so that K isn’t just hearing one side of the story. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would never suggest that a father tear down his ex-wife or baby’s mama in order to accomplish this task, but there is nothing wrong with continuously telling your child how much you love and want him with you. 

And so, divorced dads, I am encouraging you to do the same. I know (for those of you who actually care) that it gets hard at times to keep up the fight to remain an active parent in your child’s life. As I’ve stated before, it’s physically, emotionally and financially draining most of the time, and most importantly, just not fair. However you must remember that one day your ex’s influence over your child won’t be as great. She won’t be able to run interference for long! When that time comes you want your child to have always known how much daddy loves him.  It’s amazing how many fathers actually don’t know what or how to do this so below are a list of tips.

  1. Call your child everyday, especially if you don’t see him/her very often! When he/she is sick of you calling, then you know you’re doing a good job keeping in touch.
  2. When you do talk to your child make sure you continuously tell him/her how much you love and miss him/her.
  3. Make sure that your communication revolves around him/her. Meaning, ask questions about school, teachers, friends, extra curricular activities…
  4. If your child is older, make sure you open the floor for his/her questions and be honest with your answers.
  5. Send Christmas presenst, birthday presents or just thinking of you presents to constantly remind him/her of your love no matter how near or far you are. These presents don’t have to be huge – just a little something to remind him/her that daddy is still here.
  6. Create a presence of your child in your home even if you don’t see him/her very often. Make sure that there are pictures of him/her hanging up with the rest of the family photos. Make sure that there is a place for him/her when they finally do return. If you can’t afford or don’t have enough bedrooms to maintain one in his/her absence, then create a drawer or closet space that is just for him/her and his/her things. Be sure to keep your child’s favorite foods and snacks in your home. Simply put, your child should feel like he or she is a part of the family when he or she is with you. He or she shouldn’t feel like a visitor!

You should do all of this knowing that due to the nature of the situation, your child might not be receptive to you, at first, however, by continuing the above actions, you increase your chances of it getting better in the long run. As stated above, your ex will not be able to run interference forever. At some point, your child will be older, and you will be able to maintain a relationship with him/her that is separate from his/her mother.

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