Archive for the 'co-parenting' Category

What is Your Role as a Stepparent?

When we moved to Louisiana a year and a half ago, my two biological daughters stayed behind in Conway, AR. They both had summer jobs and wanted to stay close to their friends the rest of the summer. At 18 and 21 years old, I knew they could manage on their own but needed a temporary living place before they moved  into college housing in the Fall.

moving

My next-door neighbor, Sara, offered to let the girls stay at her house. She and her husband have four grown children and extra bedrooms. It was a perfect arrangement to get us through a transitional period.

When we returned to Conway to help my daughter Jamie move into her college apartment, I observed the relationship between her and my neighbor. It reminded me of a stepparenting relationship in the early years.

Sara knew her role as an additional parent to the girls. She didn’t try to overstep or undermine my relationship in any way. But she did offer a listening ear and everyday support when the girls needed it.

Late in the summer the girls’ dad came for an out-of-state visit. Because their dad is an alcoholic, his behavior is unpredictable and their relationship with him is tenuous. Sara spent several hours talking to the girls about their feelings and struggles with their dad. She offered an unbiased opinion to the situation  as a third-party observer. The girls needed a maternal figure to talk to and since I wasn’t there, they confided in Sara.

I believe that is how our stepparenting role should play out. We are to provide everyday support and a listening ear for our stepchildren when they need it. We are to be a cheerleader for their every effort in sports, music, school, drama, or whatever. We are to love and care for them as if they are our own. But we are not to undermine or compete with their biological parent. We are not to try to replace their biological parent. We are an additional parent.  

Our stepparenting role may change as years pass. When my stepchildren lost their mother to cancer eight years ago, I became their primary maternal figure. My husband has stepped into the primary parenting role with my girls because of their dad’s instability. But for many years, my husband and I both worked at functioning as an additional parent to our stepchildren.

As we drove away from our neighbor’s house to return to our home in Louisiana, Sara was on the front porch with her arm around my youngest daughter, Jodi, who stayed there another week before moving into the dorm. It gave me a warm feeling to know that, although I couldn’t be there every day because of our move, my daughter was loved and cared for by an additional parent.

What role do you play as a stepparent? Is it a healthy role that benefits your stepchildren?

Related Posts:

Is It a Privilege to be a Stepparent?

Expect the Unexpected on Your Stepparenting Journey

Dear Stepparent: Never Underestimate Your Value with Your Stepchildren

How to Cope with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

I’m addressing a question today I received from a reader. How do you cope as a stepmom when you’re dealing with a biological mom who is belittling to you and doesn’t want you in her children’s lives?

angry catThe stepmom role becomes harder when the bio mom makes every effort to exclude you from her children’s lives and unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, particularly in the beginning. It helps to understand that at the root of this issue lies the fear that the bio mom feels the children are going to bond with the you – the stepmom, and form a deeper relationship with you than they have with her.

It’s an unfounded fear because children almost always have a stronger relationship with their biological parents than they have with a stepparent, but she is reacting out of her own fear and communicating to her children that she wants their loyalty. Women are territorial when it comes to their children. If you have children of your own, you understand these feelings, but it doesn’t give the bio mom the right to act belittling or antagonistic  toward the stepmom.

To help alleviate the threat the bio mom is sensing, the stepmom needs to send a message that she has no intention of interfering with the relationship between the bio mom and her children and isn’t trying to replace her in any way. In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal give an example of how to communicate this message which they call “The No-Threat Message.” They suggest doing it in person or via e-mail if the relationship is already strained.

“Dear Meghan, since we are both involved with your kids, I wanted to take a minute to communicate with you. I want to share that I totally understand and respect that you are the only mother of these children. I’m not their mom, and I will never try to take your place. They are your children. I am honored to be an added parent figure in their lives. I view my role as one of support to their father, and my desire is to be a blessing to them. I promise to speak well of you and work together for their benefit. I desire to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Please know that I pray for the entire family. If there’s anything I can do to help the situation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”

Sending the no-threat message doesn’t guarantee the bio mom will accept your position in her children’s lives but it offers her some perspective on how you feel about your role. She is more likely to allow a relationship between you and her children if she doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior and sees you live out the No-threat message.

Unfortunately, some bio moms are mean-spirited and vindictive. In this case, there’s not a lot the stepmom can do to have an amicable relationship. For further insight, I suggest reading the chapter from The Smart Stepmom, “Meet Your Ex-Wife-in-Law: Friend or Foe.” It gives additional scenarios of how to cope with a difficult ex-spouse.

What suggestions would you give this reader? I’d love to hear them.

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries

How to Co-Parent Successfully

Taken from our e-book, “Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace,” I want to share some thoughts on  how to make co-parenting work.

Our son, Nathan, hangs with a friend whose parents are divorced. Nathan came back from a birthday party, talking about meeting his friend’s dad for the first time. As the conversation ensued, I learned both parents were at their son’s party and casually spoke with one another throughout the evening. I remember thinking to myself, what a blessing they’ve given their son.

Not all co-parenting situations can be as amicable, but the goal of co-parenting is to put aside the differences that dissolved your marriage and do your part to have a cooperative relationship.

Stepfamily living brings stress and tension, which easily carries over into the co-parenting relationship. Intentional effort is required to get along, including sacrifices and tongue-taming. If disagreements arise, it’s important to keep them from children’s ears. Adult issues need to be confined to the adults.

Co-parenting doesn’t mean we try to control what is happening in the other parent’s home. When we divorced our spouse, we relinquished control of how our children will be parented in their home. But the biggest challenge of co-parenting, learning how to be amicable in a relationship with someone you couldn’t get along with in marriage, is the link to success when parenting children after divorce.

Successful co-parenting strategies include setting boundaries about how you will be treated. If you’re dealing with a hostile ex-spouse, it often works best to communicate via text or e-mail. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable situation that could lead to emotional abuse.

Strained co-parenting gives you an opportunity to practice displaying the gifts of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5:22, 23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I know it’s not easy but as our children watch us model kindness and goodness or patience and self-control in the midst of rude or unkind behavior, they learn the value of asserting those qualities in their own lives. And we gain the satisfaction of knowing we took the high road, even when it wasn’t easy.

Drama and stepfamily living too often co-mingle, but you don’t have to let the onslaught of drama ruin your journey. Take every opportunity to conquer it with a positive perspective, peaceful interactions and determined effort to work through the challenges.

What tips can you add to help co-parent successfully?

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting With a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Co-Parenting Collisions

How To Co-Parent Successfully with Your Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with your Ex-Spouse

In my post last week on boundaries, I said I would post about creating healthy boundaries with your ex-spouse. So I’m re-posting from a previous blog post that gives some examples of what healthy boundaries look like. These boundaries may not be applicable for you if the relationship with your ex is amicable. But for those dealing with a difficult ex-spouse, I hope these are helpful. Many of them apply to my own personal situation. (I’m using “he” for simplicity in each example).

1. Discuss only issues relating to the children with your ex-spouse. If he diverts the conversation to past events or other personal matters, steer it back toward matters of the children.

2. Use e-mail and texting if face to face discussions or personal phone calls are confrontational. Do not argue in front of the children.

3. Keep your meeting places public when possible. If you’re swapping children from your home and expect conflict, don’t allow your ex-spouse to come into your home.

4. Make sure your ex-spouse is clear on your expectations. Put it in writing and provide support for what you’re asking, if needed. For example, when my stepson was younger, he suffered terribly with allergies. I took him for allergy testing and it was determined he was allergic to cigarette smoke but we knew my husband’s ex-wife and her husband smoked around him constantly. We provided a prescription note from the doctor that requested there be no smoking around my stepson.

5. Don’t allow verbal abuse of any kind – toward you or the children. If the conversation gets emotionally charged, tell your ex-spouse you will hang up unless the matter can be discussed calmly.

6. Separate issues of child support and visitation. If your ex-spouse is late or delinquent on child support, don’t deny visitation. However, follow through with the court process regarding current payments.

7. Learn to recognize manipulative behavior and don’t allow it to influence your relationship with your ex.

Boundaries can be set and then adjusted, as necessary, in your relationship  They give you the freedom to allow healthy interaction without fear of being taken advantange of or manipulated. But it is our responsibility to set boundaries that work for us without alienating our ex spouse in the process.

What boundaries do you set with your ex-spouse? Leave a comment if you’re willing to share your success with others.

Related posts:

Setting Boundaries with an Ex-Spouse

Your Ex Spouse and Boundaries: Part Two

How to Co-Parent Successfully with your Ex 

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

When I married my husband, Randy, I told him my ex-husband would not be a problem because he would eventually drop out of our lives. He had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and although he was a medical doctor, he was a most unstable person.

However, I was wrong.

Sixteen years later, Randy and I converse regularly about how to cope with the tension my ex-husband creates. His interaction with my daughters frequently results in confusion and anger for the girls. 
 I have spent hours on the phone with my ex-husband, trying to explain how his behavior alienates his children from him, creating a wall of divide that will probably never come down. 
Despite every effort to have a healthy relationship with him, I have concluded that we simply cannot maintain a mature, thriving relationship. And in order to protect myself from an emotional entanglement, it’s necessary to  set appropriate boundaries regularly. 
Now I’m not suggesting this is the case with every ex-spouse. I know many divorced parents who maintain an amicable relationship and successfully co-parent their children together. I strongly encourage healthy interaction with your ex-spouse. But I know from experience, that isn’t always possible.
So, how do you create healthy boundaries with a difficult ex-spouse? I’ll tackle that in my next post but first, I want to explain what boundaries look like.
In their book, Boundaries (which I highly recommend), Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, define a boundary as, “a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsbile. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are  not.” 
Here are some examples from the book:
“Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.”
Boundaries give us the freedom to create and maintain healthy relationships with others without losing ourselves in the process.
Christians are especially vulnerable to living without appropriate boundaries as we seek to demonstrate unselfish, unconditional love toward others. But Christ doesn’t ask us to become doormats or spineless creatures in the process.
We are created to be in constant fellowship with Him, and that cannot occur if we’re wallowing in self-pity or exploding in anger because of our lack of boundaries with those around us.
Does that make sense? Can you recognize the need for boundaries if you’re dealing with a difficult ex-spouse?
Related Posts:

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

When we moved to Louisiana toward the end of June, my two biological daughters stayed behind in Conway, AR. They both had summer jobs and wanted to stay close to their friends the rest of the summer. At 18 and 21 years old, I knew they could manage on their own but needed a temporary living place before they moved  into college housing in the Fall.

My next-door neighbor, Sara, offered to let the girls stay at her house. She and her husband have four grown children and extra bedrooms. It was a perfect arrangement to get us through a transitional period.

We spent last week-end in Conway helping my daughter, Jamie, move into her college apartment and I observed the relationship between her and my neighbor. It reminded me of a stepparenting relationship in the early years.  

Sara knew her role as an additional parent to the girls. She didn’t try to overstep or undermine my relationship in any way. But she did offer a listening ear and everyday support when the girls needed it.

Late in the summer the girls’ dad came for an out-of-state visit. Because their dad is an alcoholic, his behavior is unpredictable and their relationship with him is tenuous. Sara spent several hours talking to the girls about their feelings and struggles with their dad. She offered an unbiased opinion to the situation  as a third-party observer. The girls needed a maternal figure to talk to and since I wasn’t there, they confided in Sara.

I believe that is how our stepparenting role should play out. We are to provide everyday support and a listening ear for our stepchildren when they need it. We are to be a cheerleader for their every effort in sports, music, school, drama, or whatever. We are to love and care for them as if they are our own. But we are not to undermine or compete with their biological parent. We are not to try to replace their biological parent. We are an additional parent.  

Our stepparenting role may change as years pass. When my stepchildren lost their mother to cancer six years ago, I became their primary maternal figure. My husband has stepped into the primary parenting role with my girls because of their dad’s instability. But for many years, my husband and I both worked at functioning as an additional parent to our stepchildren.    

As we drove away from our neighbor’s house to return to our home in Louisiana, Sara was on the front porch with her arm around my youngest daughter, Jodi, who is staying there another week before moving into the dorm. It gave me a warm feeling to know that, although I can’t be there every day right now because of our move, my daughter is loved and cared for by an additional parent.

What role do you play as a stepparent? Is it a healthy role that benefits your stepchildren?

Related Posts:

Is It a Privilege to Be a Stepparent?

Unexpected Stepparenting Moments

 

Your Ex-Spouse and Boundaries: Part Two

I was raised in a conservative Christian home. I’m thankful for parents who taught me strong Biblical principles on how to live. I stand by those beliefs and raise my children on Biblical standards. However, we must consider whether “turning the other cheek” is the best action when we’re confronted with dysfunctional situations, particularly if young children are at stake. Determining how to set and maintain healthy boundaries for me and my children has been an ongoing process.

During the separation period with my husband and shortly following my divorce, I attended Al-Anon meetings (support for families of alcoholics) regularly. I learned how to take care of myself and my two girls without sacrificing their relationship with their father. I set guidelines that I shared with my ex regarding my expectations when the girls were with him and consequences if his irresponsible behavior (drinking, unhealthy choices, etc.) showed up during visitation periods. I had no guarantee that he would follow my requests, but since they were in writing, I knew I could use them in a court of law if I needed to.

When my oldest daughter reported instances of her and her sister being left alone while in his care (at 3 and 5 years old), or told to walk to the store without him, I knew I couldn’t trust his parental judgment. I pursued supervised visitation with him to protect my girls until they got older. Boundary setting with my ex-husband became a way of life for me.

When we learn to set healthy boundaries with our ex-spouse, we are less likely to have ongoing anger issues with him/her. If we don’t allow him/her to violate our “property lines” (see earlier post on boundaries), we have the freedom to develop an amicable relationship with him/her.

Boundary setting should not be malicious or revengeful. It’s not meant to alienate our ex-spouse, but rather  co-parent with him/her in a way that provides respect and stability for each party involved.

Every situation is different. If your ex-spouse is mentally and emotionally healthy, there may be little need for boundary setting. But if you’re dealing with a dysfunctional relationship, learning how to set healthy boundaries and stick to them becomes mandatory.

“Today I have the courage and faith to be true to myself, whether or not others like or agree with me. Knowing my boundaries does not mean forcing others to change; it means that I know my own limits and take care of myself by respecting them.”  Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in  Al-Anon

Do you need to consider healthy boundary-setting with your ex-spouse?

I’m working on an e-book for stepfamily holiday survival tips, including co-parenting suggestions. It will be available in November on my website. Sign up for my newsletter to stay informed.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with An Ex-Spouse: Part One

Co-Parenting with Clear Vision


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