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How often have we witnessed - or been part of - a situation where one parent hollers to the other, "you ALWAYS do that and I'm sick of it!" Probably quite frequently. How often have you seen it lead to a quiet, mature discussion of the problem? Not very often.

For a stepparent, a conversation like that can cut like a knife. The parent has tried to "bring it all together," to build a strong feeling of family involving parents and children, but once again something has gone wrong. It isn't likely that any marriage will sail smoothly along, with never a ripple in the smooth surface, but there are ways to avoid or minimize the misunderstandings and the conflict. In an interview about stepparenting that was printed in Salo n, author Susan Chira said, "in reality, it's critical that you develop a strong marriage and a strong marital bond first, otherwise it's harder to negotiate all those other issues. Your adult needs must be met."

Another similar view was offered by M. B. Dillon in Step-Parenting: The Latest Frontier , who observed that the biological and stepparent are "the glue holding it all together, and the glue needed to be strong and flexible."

Most parents have some time alone together before the children arrive, but a stepparent is dropped right into a family. Sometimes he or she will bring children to the family, but often the stepparent has no parenting experience. If the couple have a honeymoon, it may be the last time they are alone together for a long time. At Strengthening the Couple Relationship, there is an excellent discussion about what keeps a marriage strong. The author points out: "When a man and a woman join together in the mutual adventure through life, both individuals and the marriage are subjected to fierce strains; yet, in most cases, they give marriage only 'left-over time.'" Some of the areas that are important for keeping a marriage alive are Trust, Commitment, Skills, Caring, Reciprocity, Effort, and Enrichment, and the author elaborates on what makes up these important points. The article continues by looking at a Marriage Enrichment Plan. The seven areas that are described take little time and effort, but can have very positive results.

Some of the things that parents have to discuss before they move in together are the basics of day-to-day living. The house rules need to be decided in advance, and it certainly is possible that this can be done in meetings that involve the children. Perhaps his children are used to staying up until 10:00, whereas her children who are the same age have an 8:00 o'clock bed time. Even worse, one parent's biological children who are younger may have a later bed time than the other parent's children do. Nothing will be gained by arguing about it when everyone is living together, but a family consultation can result in a compromise. Ultimately, however, the parents decide what the rules are after listening to the discussion about the points in question. No matter what the situation, if adults present a united position, the children are more likely to accept it.

Time alone together is vital for the parents, but, if finances are tight, it isn't necessary for them to actually leave home for an evening. The children need to appreciate that their parents require time to enjoy each other and that it doesn't mean they don't want their kids around. The article

Children, Marriage, and Date Nights
takes an interesting look at the need for parents to have time together. Although this particular article focuses on time together at home, neither parent should feel guilty about wanting occasional time away from the family. An occasional adult "night out" is a special treat to look forward to.

Arguments are a part of family life, but it helps if ones between the parent and stepparent are infrequent. Some of the areas of disagreement can be worked out when the couple have time alone together, and this time is vital for strengthening the bond between them.

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Stepfamilies - How to Live in Harmony - by Jan Andersen

Conflict, hostility, resentment, anger, rejection, patience, flexibility, sacrifice.

If you're a stepparent, you may identify with some or all of the above keywords. Unfortunately, stepparents have always had a bad press. Have you, i.e., ever heard of a stepmother being described as anything but “wicked” in fairytales?

Maybe you have custody of your stepchildren or maybe they live with their biological parent & stay with you & your partner at weekends or during vacations. Whatever the situation, it requires sacrifice, time & emotional energy.

Nobody ever professed that being part of a blended family would be easy & it soon becomes apparent that the happy-ever-after scenario that's portrayed in soppy films, rarely exists in reality.

When you become a stepparent, you find yourself not just playing Piggy in the Middle between your partner & his/her children, but often between your partner & his/her ex, your partner & your ex, your partner & your children, your children & your partner’s children. The combinations are endless!

I was on my own with my 3 children, now aged 17, 13 & 11, for a number of years after my ex-husband & I divorced.

When my current partner, Mike, moved in with us a couple of years ago, he was keen to make a good impression & for a while it worked. My children sang his praises to my ex-husband & his wife & although we had a few problems with Mike’s ex-wife, life in general was very harmonious.

I was happy because I was in a stable relationship with a wonderfully caring partner & consequently, my children were happier too, not least because they were now part of what society regarded as a “normal” family with two parents.

However, Mike & I had to meet on common ground regarding discipline & while I'd always been reasonably strict with my children, suddenly this new man, who wasn’t their biological dad, began to enforce law & order in their domain.

It wasn’t long before my eldest son, now 17, became rebellious & uncooperative, which in turn caused us to react negatively & so on. It was a vicious circle, which culminated in my son moving out after some unwelcome involvement with the local Social Services department.

To further aggravate the situation, Mike’s 2 sons from his previous marriage, now aged 7 & 5, began staying with us at weekends. They were still coming to terms with their parents’ recent divorce, still clinging on to the dream that maybe their mum & dad would get back together again & although their behavior was appalling, Mike was initially conscious about not wanting to spend the entire weekend chastizing them.

Mike’s ex-wife had already made the boys believe that daddy had left home because he didn’t love them anymore & he had to work hard to reassure them that that was absolutely not the case.

However, it hurt my children to see Mike’s boys effectively ruling the roost & monopolizing our time when they came to stay. My children were punished & denied privileges when they'd been disobedient, yet there was little consistency in the way in which Mike treated his children. If his boys were naughty, which they were for a large part of the time, he still took them out, still cuddled them, indulged their fussy eating whims & generally gave them a good time.

As a result, I felt that I had to compensate by giving my children the love of two parents, but because of my long working hours I wasn’t always able to be there at the times when they perhaps needed me the most.

When I broached the subject with Mike, he'd use the excuse that he only saw his boys at the weekend & that I was fortunate enough to see my children everyday.

However, I explained to him that it was quality of time, not quantity that was important & as far as I was concerned, my children had virtually no quality time with us. As we were both working full-time, we devised a daily chores’ rota for the children, yet their only reward was pocket money if they completed their tasks satisfactorily. When we arrived home in the evening, we were generally exhausted, my daughter always had piles of homework & we had too little time available to take the children out.

In addition, if the chores hadn’t been completed to a desired standard, the children would be grumbled at & it soon became apparent that Mike usually only ever gave them attention when they had stepped out of line.

One of the most heartbreaking times for me – & probably my youngest son, Carsten – was when he'd received his end of year examination results, which dictated the sets he would be placed in when he began senior school. He had already ‘phoned me at work to tell me that he had received his results & I could tell from his tone of voice that they were good.

When Mike & I arrived home from work that day, Mike immediately focused on the dustbins that had been left at the front of the house & which Carsten had been specifically asked to move to their correct spot at the back of the house. Mike muttered some expletive & when he stormed thru the back door, I knew that Carsten’s neck was on the line.

When we entered the lounge, Carsten was sitting on the sofa clutching a brown envelope in both hands, his face glowing with pride.

However, his expression soon changed to one of shock & anguish as Mike began attacking him verbally for not having completed his chores. He then snatched the envelope from Carsten’s grasp shouting, “And what’s this?” before ripping it open & reading the contents.

Not being familiar with the grading system, Mike thought that Carsten had received low marks, when in fact he had received the top marks possible in his year. Mike began shouting at him again, but when I explained that Carsten had received excellent grades, Mike then launched into a bulletin on how it was pointless attaining academic excellence if he was too stupid to follow basic instructions at home.

By this stage, tears were already rolling from Carsten’s huge blue eyes & he looked totally crushed. He'd been expecting praise & congratulations & instead had been belittled, once again. I felt as though my heart would break for my little boy. I told him that he'd done very well, hugged him, then went & locked myself in the bathroom & sobbed my heart out.

An additional problem reared its ugly head when I began to discipline Mike’s children. I was bombarded with verbal abuse & while Mike’s younger son, Daniel, was generally far more accepting of my authority, his elder son, Christopher, would constantly backchat & treat me with utter contempt.

If I told him not to leap all over the furniture for example, he'd say, “Mummy lets us do it at home, so that’s why I don’t like coming here” or “Mummy says that you’re not allowed to tell us off.” At other times, if I chastized him, he would simply call me a stupid, fat, ugly cow or some other equally endearing name.

He'd also quote unpleasant remarks that had apparently been made by his mother about me. I didn’t always tell Mike because I didn’t want to appear as though I was always complaining about his children.

My initial reaction, had one of my children spoken to me in such a manner, would have been to slap their backside hard, but I didn't wish to increase the hostility that Christopher obviously already felt.

Instead, I calmly explained that irrespective of how he was allowed to behave in his own home, when he was in someone else’s home he had to respect their rules, just the same as he had to at school & that while he was staying with us, we were responsible for his behavior.

I told him that if he was unhappy, then he didn’t have to stay with us at the weekend. That way, I'd given him the freedom of choice, rather than making him feel that he had been forced into an uncomfortable situation.

What I very quickly realized was that the battle towards acceptance & hopefully, some degree of unanimity, was going to take time. I also learned from Mike that if his boys were rude to me in his absence, I had to report it to him immediately.

Today, after 2 years of emotional highs & lows, Mike’s boys have improved dramatically, although their manners still leave a lot to be desired.

However, they now accept the fact that I have the authority to discipline them & when I tell them not to do something, they comply with my wishes, if begrudgingly. There's still conflict & I suspect there always will be, but then that's a natural occurrence in most families, not just blended ones. It’s all part of the life process, part of growth & learning.

Only recently, Christopher came out with what was, without a doubt, the most evil thing he had ever said to me. Mike had gone late night food shopping & had put the boys to bed prior to leaving. I was lying on our bed because, at 5 months’ pregnant, I wasn't feeling too well.

The moment Mike left the house, I could hear thuds & crashes from the boys’ bedroom, together with agitated shrieks from Daniel. When I went to investigate, I discovered Christopher leaping all over Daniel’s bed, while it was evident that Daniel was trying to go to sleep.

I shouted at Christopher & ordered him back into his own bed, after which I told him that if I heard another sound from him I would ‘phone his dad. I turned out the light & left the room, but just as I was closing the door I heard Christopher mutter something.

I walked back him & asked him to repeat what he had said. “Nothing!” he lied. with an expression of ill-concealed worry on his face. “Yes, he did”, piped up Daniel, “He said, ‘I hope Jan’s baby dies’”.

I was horrified & had to struggle to prevent myself from bursting into tears. Instead, I gave him an extremely stern lecture & told him that to wish death on someone was the most wicked sin of all.

He hadn’t intended for me to hear him & although he had learned not to backchat, he was obviously still muttered obscenities behind my back! I also explained that just because his dad & I were having a new baby, didn’t mean that his dad was going to love him any the less.

With respect to my own children, I have now re-built the relationship with my eldest son, who recently thanked me for giving him such good “training”.

His flat is immaculate & he says that he now gets annoyed when his friends come round & make a mess! He told me that had we not forced him to do household chores, he wouldn’t be as capable as he is now at managing his own place.

My daughter & youngest son accept Mike’s authority & although he’ll never be their real dad, he’s much more of a father to them than my ex-husband will ever be.

There's no magical solution, but adherence to the following ground rules can certainly bring you one stride closer to living in harmony with your stepchildren.

  • You & your partner must establish firm ground rules in your home, irrespective of how your stepchildren have been allowed to behave in their own homes. When the children are on your territory, you have authority & responsibility for their behavior
  • Explain that everybody has different rules & that everyone has to abide by the rules of the house they're visiting, in exactly the same way as they have to abide by certain rules at school
  • It's imperative that you & your partner agree on a level of discipline & stick to it. Serious conflict can be arise when parents have radically opposing views on discipline & what's or isn’t acceptable behavior in children
  • Try not to demonstrate obvious favoritism towards your own children in front of your stepchildren. Consistency & fairness are the order of the day
  • In the beginning, accept the fact that the stepchildren may expect their parents to reconcile & that your relationship with your partner is only a temporary interlude.

Sit down with the children, when the time is right & explain to them that sometimes 2 people who are married may find that they're unable to live together anymore, but that it doesn’t mean they love their children any less. This is particularly important for the parent who has moved out, since the children will inevitably experience a sense of rejection & desertion

  • Don’t allow your stepchildren to play one parent off against the other. Whatever your feelings towards the biological parent, you shouldn't condone any derogatory comments about that parent.

After all, they're probably saying similar things about you or your partner to the other parent. The only time when it's imperative to listen & act as if you believe that the other parent is being abusive in any way

  • Accept the fact that however perfect a stepmother or stepfather you are, you'll never be the biological parent of your stepchildren. It's natural for a stepchild to feel a level of resentment towards you when you're imposing rules or restrictions upon them.

However, life revolves around rules, wherever the place or whatever the situation, so it has to be explained that it isn't only biological parents who are qualified to enforce law & order

  • Show love. Sometimes children need love the most at a time when it’s hardest to give it to them. While bad behavior should never be rewarded with a cuddle or treat, when children are behaving well it's important to praise them
  • Don’t be afraid to defend your own children if you genuinely believe that they're being treated unfairly by your partner. Likewise, don’t interfere & try & condone their behavior if you know that they're in the wrong.

Undermining a stepparent’s authority can lead to children having no respect for that parent. Similarly, if you fail to step in when they've been wrongly accused of something, they may lose respect & faith in you

  • Set aside special time each week for your partner & yourself. You both need time to be yourselves & to show each other just why you chose to be together

©Jan Andersen

Footnote: Jan Andersen is a freelance writer living in the UK. Since writing this article Jan has given birth to a healthy baby daughter, Lauren, born on 12 November 1999.

Remarriage Preparation - A Little Planning Goes a Long Way with Your Kids & Partner

by Alyssa Johnson Remarriagesuccess.com

You've just told your kids you're getting remarried. So how did they react to the news? Was it what you expected? Today, let's focus on steps you can take to either better prepare your kids for this announcement or help them become more comfortable with it.

Family Planning (and no I don't mean birth control here)

Give your kids and your partner a chance to grow in their relationship and figure out how it will work. Just like you spent time dating them to see if you were compatible, give your kids and your partner time to see what they think about one another and how their relationship is going to work. This can be hard because one or both parties may be a little hesitant or even downright resistant.

Give everyone enough time

Relationships take time to grow. Don't expect your kids to build a strong emotional bond to your partner in 2 weeks or even 2 months for that matter. While you and your partner may be excited about the prospect of marrying and want to make that happen as soon as the decision is made, don't forget that it's not just a wedding you're planning. There's a family that's created on that day and you need to plan for that family.

You really set the stage for how your kids and new partner will get along

While I don't believe you have control over their relationship, I do think you have a strong influence and that needs to be exerted heavily in the beginning. If your kids haven't met your new partner yet, then spend some time thinking about how you want that first meeting to go. You want it to be a success, right?

You know your kids so think about what will be a comfortable situation for them. I always stress not to do "Disney World" every time your kids and partner are around each other. What I mean by this is saving only the most exciting events for when your kids are around your partner. This sets everyone up for failure. Once you're married, life is ordinary it's NOT Disney World. If the kids are used to "special" things when your partner is around they will resent the change once you're married.

With these steps in place, your announcement to marry shouldn't come as a shock to your kids. They've had time to get to know this person and begin to feel as if they are a part of their lives. It still doesn't mean they will jump up and do a "happy dance" about the prospect of you remarrying. Don't expect too much from them, they may still be getting used to you being single and now you're going to make another change in their lives. Is that bad thing? No. But it is another change they have to adjust to. The change of a step family.

And there will be changes for you too. Why not get some words of wisdom from people who've actually been there?! Come to The Community where other divorced and/or remarried parents are offering advice and asking questions about life beyond divorce and step families.

Copyright ©  2008  Alyssa M. Johnson, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

Alyssa M. Johnson, Inc.
8340 Little Eagle Court  Suite #1, Indianapolis, IN  46234
(317) 271-8700, Fax (317) 271-8790

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