Keeping Family Close

When my mom was a kid and her parents divorced, she didn’t see her dad for almost a decade…until she was married and had a child of her own (me) and decided to reach out. My husband’s parents divorced and he never built a relationship with his father, who passed away when Dave was in his 20s. He has remained disconnected from his father’s family even though they live in a neighboring town. My kids’ biological mother has chosen not to have an active role in her children’s lives, even though we’ve given her every opportunity to be involved. It is difficult for me to understand her choice, and I am seeing the effects of it in the way the kids respond to her (or choose not to, in the case of our oldest son). While we cannot force her to be more involved, I do not want our kids to lose contact with the rest of their biological family.

Our children have aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents with whom they have virtually no contact because of their mother’s choice not to be involved in their lives. I know from speaking to their great-grandmother and grandmother that this is extremely painful for them. Our oldest son was ten and the twins were six when my husband divorced their mom, and up to that point, her family had been actively involved in the kids’ lives.  When she decided not to have custody or even partake in her visitation rights, it did not just affect the kids; it affected all of the family who had been close to them.

Since my husband was “the enemy” for leaving the marriage, reaching out to the family was difficult for him to do; I tried to help, but as the new wife, I was even less popular. The kids weren’t old enough in the beginning to make the efforts on their own, and now that they are old enough, they don’t know the family well enough to be willing to make the effort. With our oldest son, he flat out refuses to have anything to do with his biological mother.

While I hope that your situation is not as difficult, I know that there are even worse cases of “disconnect” out there. For the sake of the kids, finding ways to keep their relatives in their lives might be as important to you as it was to me.  While it wasn’t always successful, we did find small ways to help the kids connect with their mom’s family:

•Use holidays as an excuse to bring family closer. While sharing Christmas dinner together might not be feasible, it does not take much time at all to put together a specific family newsletter that talks about the kids and what they did with their year that doesn’t expound on your honeymoon, new baby, or new house. Include lots of pictures.

•The kids’ birthdays are always a good time to include everyone. Have a birthday party at a place other than your home, like a skating rink or a pizza place. Invite cousins and other family members to attend. Being in neutral territory will make it easier for the family to participate, and the focus will be on the kids, not on the ex-husband and his new wife.

•School functions always make it easy. This is one time where you can have even the youngest school-age child call grandma or auntie and say, “We’re having a school program. Will you come?” Just knowing that the kids still want them involved helps bridge the gap.

Divorce is never easy. When bitter feelings aren’t resolved, the ones who suffer in the long run are the children. It would have been easy for me to not even worry about it, but I couldn’t imagine not being able to see my aunts and uncles or grandparents, no matter what the reason, so I kept trying. I sent pictures to the other grandma every year, and made accommodations wherever possible to allow the relationship to flourish.

Family counselors often encourage adults to act like grown-ups and put their issues aside for the sake of the kids. It’s not always possible if all of the adults aren’t willing to do that, but it is worth trying. Kids who have been through a divorce need all the love and reassurance they can get – from everyone who loves them.


When a Parent Chooses Not To Be Involved

Sad Child

There were times when my husband would call his ex-wife and tell her how much the kids wanted to see her.  He would beg her to see the kids. She only lived 20 minutes away; sometimes she would come pick them up for an hour, but quite often she wouldn’t. The kids could never understand why she didn’t want to be with them. I never could either.

We did not have the typical custody arrangement.  My husband and his ex-wife had 50/50 custody, and each parent was supposed to have the children a week at a time, but after the first week (long before I was in the picture), the kids’ biological mom no longer wanted that.  The arrangement was modified so that she could see the kids whenever she wanted, had every other holiday, and could be there for birthdays and other events. After the first year, she stopped taking her share of holidays, and I’m not sure the kids even remember her being there to celebrate birthdays.

As Stepmom, this meant that I didn’t have to share – I didn’t have the challenge of stepkids spending more time with someone else raising them where my influence and time was limited.  In fact, the kids were with us all the time. It was like they weren’t steps at all.

On those rare occasions, then, when the kids saw their mother, I experienced fear – fear that something about our arrangement would change – that the kids would suddenly decide they wanted to live with mom, or mom would suddenly realize everything she had been missing and want her (my) kids back.

We have been lucky in a lot of ways because we haven’t had that strained back and forth with the kids, and the kids have not ever had to learn how to live in two households and follow two sets of rules.  They’ve never come home after a weekend at their moms full of ideas about how things “should” be or had anything to say about “mom does it this way.”

For all intents and purposes, I’ve been mom, something that has been a real pleasure and a real privilege.

The sad truth is, though, that even though I filled the gap that was left by her absence, even though I was there for the kids for broken bones and straight As and broken hearts and everything else, like every kid, they wanted their mom.  I don’t feel slighted by this – but my heart breaks, knowing that this woman who has three marvelous children in the world has opted not to know the fabulous people they are becoming.

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.


Maintaining Stability for Kids During Divorce

In the midst of divorce and the subsequent changes that happen in the children’s lives, maintaining stability becomes one of the most important factors in making children feel secure. When my husband, Dave, and his wife divorced and he realized he would have full custody of the children (it was supposed to be 50/50, but she opted not to take any custody at all) Dave made some key decisions that helped his kids feel safe during such a stressful time. I admire him for the sacrifices he made for his children. I think that the way he handled things made a huge difference in the kids’ ability to adjust and cope.

One of the decisions he made was to keep the house they were living in. While it was painful for him to have the constant reminder of what was, for the kids, it meant very little changed in their routines: they went to the same school, slept in the same bedrooms, and knew where everything was. Of course they had to adjust to their mother’s absence, and the changes that occurred as she moved certain things out of the house, but for the most part the kids were surrounded by the familiar. While you may not be able to keep your home in a divorce, choosing to live in the same school district and in a familiar area can help your kids adjust.

The other thing Dave demanded was that nothing – not even things that belonged to his ex-wife – be removed from the kids’ rooms; their rooms were sacred and off limits for any kind of change. It meant she had to leave behind a blanket that was in Kira’s room and a couple of pictures in the boys’ room, but it also meant that the kids were not confronted with her absence in their bedrooms.

He communicated with the children’s teachers and counselors (Kira was in Kindergarten, Kyle was in a special school for the disabled, and Derek was in second grade).  He made sure the school knew how to reach him at all times; he personally walked the kids to school every morning and was there to pick them up every afternoon.  He continued their extracurricular activities – soccer and gymnastics – so that everything felt as “normal” as possible.

Finally, because Dave had been working nights and his wife had been home with the kids, he gave up his career so that he could be with the kids at night.  He took a low-paying restaurant job that allowed him to work only when the kids were in school.  Their budget was tight, but the kids had their dad with them whenever they weren’t in school.

Providing stability to the life of a child whose parents are divorcing is critical to their well-being. Making these sacrifices wasn’t difficult for Dave – it was all done out of love and an instinct to protect his kids from any further heartache.


Feelings of Resentment as a Stepparent

No matter how much you try not to, sometimes when you’re a stepparent, you feel a bit of resentment. It could be resentment at having to share your spouse with the other people he loves, even if they’re just kids. It could be the relationship he maintains with the ex-wife, making you wonder about your place in his life. It could be all the sacrifices you make, much like a real parent would, without any of the glory or credit.

It happens, and it’s ok. No, it’s not the feeling you want to have all of the time, and if you are feeling resentment on a regular basis, you should definitely be examining your feelings to determine where it’s coming from and why you feel that way. If your resentment causes you to feel as though you might harm yourself or your stepchildren, that should also be sending major alarms through you; seek counseling immediately.

If it’s just the run-of-the-mill, every-once-in-a-while, probably-feel-guilty-afterward resentment, it’s pretty normal, whether anyone actually talks about it or not. For me, it was the worst when my husband and I were still dating and I hadn’t been around kids that much. It seemed like we would just get them settled for bed and I would look forward to having some alone time and first Derek would not be able to sleep and then Kira would need a drink…it was always something.

I used to get frustrated, and I would think to myself, “He always puts them first!” It wouldn’t be often, and most of the time I would be equally involved in meeting their needs…but sometimes, it was tough.

Now I have a seven and ten-year old of my own biology. Guess what?  They wait until Dave and I are ready to settle for the evening and have some alone time…and then Parker can’t sleep and Anika needs a drink. I laugh, because I realize that the frustration I felt that I blamed on not being a parent is just par for the course with kids. The kids weren’t trying to steal my time with Dave – they were just being kids. What’s even funnier is that now Dave is more likely to get frustrated than me at the interruptions – I’m simply amused (and relieved) at how typical the behavior is.

As my stepkids have gotten older and our relationship has cemented, my feelings of resentment have occurred less and less. It still happens, though, like when my 18-year old stepdaughter first told us she planned to stay home for an additional year and go to community college – but didn’t necessarily want to get a job, contribute to the household, or be responsible for anything. After some thought, I realized it had nothing to do with her being a “step” and everything to do with her being 18 – and Dave and I responded accordingly. (Of course she can stay here, provided she gets a job, respects the house rules, and contributes by doing regular chores; alternatively, she can work longer hours and pay rent somewhere else!) Our response to her is no different than it would have been to any of our kids – biologically related or not!

If you’re feeling a bit of resentment now and then, don’t let it get you down. Recognize it for what it is, and move on – and know that it’s ok to not be perfect every moment!

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.


Child Support Inequities

Child support is a topic that is often not discussed as a part of stepparenting, but having just raised three children for whom my husband and I were responsible for meeting every need, I can tell you that child support is something that should be discussed more.

In the entire time that my husband had sole custody of his three children, his ex-wife was only ordered to pay $300 per month. $300 per month to help meet the needs of three children’s housing, clothing, food, school necessities and activities. I can promise you, it did not stretch very far.

Add to that the fact that, since the kids’ mom refused her custodial and visitation rights, we had the kids with us 100% of the time and had to pay for the sitters, the entertainment, the vacations…it could lead to a great deal of resentment.

I don’t, however, resent the fact that my husband and I had the financial and emotional responsibility for raising his children. They’ve all become wonderful, amazing people of whom we are both extremely proud.

I do think the issue of child support and how it is calculated should be revisited for all families. How any state can justify any child costing a mere $300 a month has never raised a child!

One of my stepsons is disabled. He has Down syndrome and will require our ongoing care and attention, and possibly live with us, for the rest of his life. We have no problem with that – he is our child and we love him and will provide for him without a moment’s hesitation. How the child support system can tell the other parent, however, that she no longer has any financial responsibility for him is frankly amazing to me, but that is exactly what has happened. Even though Kyle is still attending high school, because he has turned 18, the state that governs his child support says he no longer has a right to it.

I wonder: are there other families struggling because child support payments seem so disproportionate to the cost of actually raising and caring for a child? Do others struggle financially to make ends meet while the non-custodial parent parades through life without a care or cost? It would be interesting to see just how the arbitrary calculations made by child support offices truly affect how we are able to care for our children.

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.


Blending Families So Kids Aren’t Casualties

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, our blended families may not always blend the way we’d like them to.  It is extremely difficult to take so many varied personalities and throw them together – sometimes for only a few days at a time – and expect them to click perfectly, but you can make a difference by always treating the children with respect, never expecting more from them than they are capable of giving, and by not using them as pawns in an emotional adult game of manipulation.

While adult stepchildren are a different matter altogether, minor children need to be handled – literally – with kid gloves.  Biological parents should communicate with their children about impending changes in their lives, future stepparents should be introduced slowly and cautiously. Stepparents should be exceedingly patient, not forcing acceptance before the children are ready.  Keep your expectations minimal.

In the beginning, we were all strangers living in the same house.  We shared meals, went to movies together, and had one thing in common: we all loved him. Would it be enough?  Would this one man who brought us all together be the glue that turned us from strangers living as roommates to a family?

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.



Becoming a StepMom

I was not the greatest “mom” to step into the role of mother – when I inherited my step kids, I was 26 years old. I had been used to being single, to being able to go wherever I wanted – whenever I wanted to go. I had never been “tied down” by children or forced to find a babysitter to do anything. I had never even spent much time around children to understand how they worked.

My oldest step son, now 23, probably got the worst deal in the beginning with me as a step mom. He was the oldest; he remembered his mom being in his life; he probably resented me more as the invader of his home and hopes. He was also the child with whom I tended to struggle the most – with not knowing what I was doing, with not knowing what to do with a 10 year old boy – and he probably worried about how life would be with me in it.

That first year we were all together was probably roughest for him – and me. I was trying to figure out my place among these four people whose family I’d joined, and I had a huge learning curve on the whole parenting thing.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.





Helping Kids Adjust When Family Structure Changes

One of the biggest challenges facing kids of divorced parents is attempting to live up to the expectations of all of the adults in their lives – moms, dads, stepmoms, and stepdads. When the adults use the child as a weapon or a wedge, the person who loses the most is the child. There is a direct correlation between the behavior of children in school, their social functioning, and the stability and security of their home life.

Kids can survive divorce, remarriage, and new family structures. Kids are versatile, adaptable, and capable of learning to live by multiple sets of different rules. (They do it between school and home, between home and Grandma’s house all the time)! That versatility in your child stems directly from the security and safety they have with their surroundings.

If ex-spouses or stepparents are always fighting with each other, using the child as either a point of negotiation or a threat, the child feels diminished and objectified. No, your child will not necessarily be able to put that in words to you, but at any given age, you’ll experience the results: younger children become clingy and whiny and may regress; older children become violent and angry or withdraw.

Don’t assume your stepchild is simply acting out or misbehaving. As a stepparent, certainly don’t take it personally or assume the child is behaving the way he is simply to punish you. Look for the underlying cause of the behavior.  Try to determine whether the child might be feeling neglected or insecure. Talk to your stepchild; reassure him or her that you are there for him or her and want to help.

All of the adults in the child’s life should be working to create a safe and harmonious environment for the child. The safer the child feels, the less stress there will be on the entire family. Stepparents can play a key role in creating this environment for their stepchildren by consistently reassuring the children with your actions. By listening to, respecting, and communicating with your stepchildren you can help the child understand that you are not a threat.

Open communication is critical – it’s important that you talk to your kids about the changes that will be happening in their lives. You and your spouse should work together to ensure that you maintain open communication with children and stepchildren – whether you see them every other weekend or they live with you full-time. Make sure to listen to their concerns about the way things are changing and acknowledge the concerns they have.

You can build a healthy blended family, but it takes the effort of all of the grown-ups to make it possible. Children need to know that they are wanted and loved, regardless of custody, marriage, or new siblings.


Assigning Chores in a Blended Family

I’ve had several people ask me how we handle chores in our house given the fact that we have a blended family. To be honest, that was probably the first place where I stepped in as future step mom and put my foot down (gently, in a private conversation with my husband).

Dave divorced his children’s mother and had been left with the kids full time when his ex-wife chose not to take her 50/50 custody or see the kids regularly. He felt horribly guilty – he chose to end a miserable, unfulfilling marriage, something he saw as a selfish act. It made him feel as though he were completely responsible for ensuring his children’s happiness at all times.

Over the first year, what that translated into was Dave becoming a slave to his children’s demands. He poured their cereal in the morning; they ate, walked away, he cleaned up. He cleaned their rooms, made their beds, folded and put away all the laundry…when I arrived on the scene I knew it was headed to an unhealthy place.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy..



Disrespectful Stepchildren

by Shadra Bruce

There are certain parts of step parenting that do not come into the light as often as they probably should. While most blended families have struggles or issues – and some blended families have more than their share of additional stresses – it’s not often that people talk about what happens when step mom or step dad is being mistreated or manipulated. You may find it very difficult to tell the man or woman you love that his or her child is causing you pain or has a part of their personality that is sometimes only visible to you. While I always, through my articles and in my life, advocate giving the step child the benefit of the doubt, what I may not be stating clearly enough (and therefore will do so now) is that no matter what the child has experienced at the hands of divorce, you, as the step parent, deserve to be treated with respect.

I have been lucky, for the most part, in my step parenting experience; my step kids have been respectful and have allowed me a large role in their lives. I have seen, however, both within my own family and within other blended families, the divisiveness that occurs when a step child manipulates a situation.

Parents believe the best about their children – how else would we learn to tolerate the terrible twos, the even-worse threes, and the challenges of raising teenagers? We see the best in our kids, and we give them the benefit of the doubt. We sometimes even go so far as to make excuses for them or their behavior. We do it out of love.

There are times, though, when a step child discovers a way to make life miserable for the step parent. This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.