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Blended Families

Q&A My Perspective: Dealing with Challenging In Law Relationships

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Q&A My Perspective: Dealing with Challenging In Law Relationships

QUESTION

How do you deal with challenging in laws and not let your feelings affect your children’s feelings?

MY PERSPECTIVE

The beauty of life is that we always have a choice.  We choose which clothes to wear (the clean or the dirty), which food to eat (the healthy or the indulgent), and which way we choose to look at our choices (deeming them good or bad).

We can choose to look at our “challenges” whichever way we like.  We can see the tough relationships we engage in as completely worthless or as an opportunity to grow.  Like when your 9th grade boyfriend’s sister decided she didn’t like you and convinced him you were not worth his time, so he broke up with you.  And then you were shattered for 3 days straight until the 11th grade hottie asked you out and then you realized it really was an opportunity to grow!

Okay, but in post high school terms…you met your spouse and fell in love with the aspects of them that were created not only by their personal achievements, but by the way they were raised.  Your spouse’s parents may not be perfect, they may not meet your mold or expectations of what you want in parents, or in laws or maybe even acquaintances, but they are a part of your life for a reason.

You have the choice on how you want to look at that reason.  Will they help you grow and gain clarity on what aspects of the relationship you want to enhance? Or will they help you recognize the qualities in them that you don’t care for that you also don’t like in yourself that you don’t want to flourish.  Identify what you like and what you don’t like—specifically.  And then decide what you want to do with each aspect.

For example, if you like the way they make your spouse feel important, focus on that. Had they not built up your spouse’s self esteem, they may never have had the courage to date you.  If you like the way they buy your child a new outfit for every season, focus on that.  Send them pictures of your child in the outfit to show your appreciation.  Appreciation breeds appreciation…it just does.

If you don’t like the way they ignore you or make you feel like you are second fiddle, notice if that is something you do to others in your life.  If it is, hone in on those relationships and start to pay more attention to those who may feel ignored by you.  You will start to sense a reason why you ignore them and will have a better understanding of why you may be ignored…jealousy, insecurity, feelings of loss of power.  The more you do this and recognize it, the less you will notice when someone is doing it to you, because you will feel your importance regardless of what is happening around you.  And believe me, I get it that it sounds a little hokey, but just trust me on this one.

As for how your feelings will impact your children, it is yet another choice. Will you respect the relationship and accept it or will you reject the relationship and all that goes with it?

Developing a respect for the relationship, despite your personal opinion of it, will create a few different cool things, one being acceptance of the relationship.  You don’t have to like it to accept it.  In fact, you don’t have to like them to accept them.  Nor do you have to be like them or relate to them in anyway to accept them.  You can simply accept that they are who they are and it doesn’t make them horrible human beings, it just makes them different than you. Perhaps that’s why your partner is drawn to you to begin with. 🙂

Embrace the difference, don’t judge it. Because the reality is, whether you judge up close or from a distance, the only person who feels that judgment is you.  And why do that to yourself if you have the option not to?

The more that you accept them and the relationship they have in your family’s life, the more your children will sense your acceptance and feel the same.  You are modeling acceptance, no matter what it looks like.  What we model is what we teach.

Or you can reject the relationship.  You can reject it mildly or you can reject it with every outspoken part of your personality.  Either way, your partner feels the rejection, their parent feels the rejection and your children feel the rejection.  Your children will then question their own relationship with them and never quite know what is okay to feel when they sense the pull of two directions. Do you want them to choose and if you do, who will it benefit?

Not an easy choice, but it does have a definitive solution if you are willing to do the work to get to it.  Sometimes the best way to solve the problem is to fix its root.  And when you fix the root, you are left with the full enjoyment of what blooms.

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Q&A My Perspective: Healing the Parent/Child Relationship

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Q&A My Perspective: Healing the Parent/Child Relationship

QUESTION

As I sit here and try to think of the best way to convey my question, my heart is in anguish with tears pouring down my face. About a year and half ago I became addicted to pain medication that I was prescribed for a back injury I sustained in a car accident. It spiraled out of control last February ending with a protective order being filed so I couldn’t contact my 12 year old son’s mother or him and I ended up choosing to go into a 9 month substance abuse program that helped veterans. This was clearly my fault. Up until this point in time his mother and I had never really disagreed on anything and we haven’t been together since he was 2. We had never been to court. We just agreed on visitation and child support. I paid her child support every week and I pretty much got him whenever I wanted. We were VERY close. I coached his little league teams from when he was 4 until he was 9. I was always very active in his life. Well, long story short I graduated the program and got a court order to get some visitation back. I have not been able to have any contact with him for a year now and have not been able to see him at all.  My question is…I have supervised visitations starting next week and while I’m ecstatic that I am finally going to get to see him, I am very nervous and I don’t even know what to say to him. I know the number one thing is being honest. I just want to make sure I do everything right. I know it is going to take a lot of time and a lot of consistency to earn his trust and respect again. I’m just hoping you may have some helpful advice to give me going into this.

 

MY PERSPECTIVE

First of all, you have already done the hard work.  You recognized that you chose a behavior that was not working for you and made the decision to change it.  It doesn’t matter why or how, it only matters that you did.  Blaming yourself for your wrong doings is only helpful to get you to the point where you are now…in the process of recognizing that change needs to take place in order to heal yourself.  Its time to let the blame go.  It no long serves any positive use in your life.  You are where you are by choice and the more you choose forgiveness and acceptance for where you are now, the more you will heal, and the joy and purpose in your life will grow with you.

The changes that you have made and will continue to make will not only be the greatest gift to you, but also to your son.  You are teaching him that even our heroes and the people we look up to make mistakes, that it’s okay to be human.  But more importantly, you are teaching him that when you recognize you choose behaviors that don’t help you, you dig in and find the strength to change those behaviors into ones that DO work…there is no greater lesson than to teach by example.  It is equally important for us to know what doesn’t work as it does to know what does so we know the difference.  By choosing to change you are teaching him a lesson he wouldn’t learn anywhere else. What a true gift for you both!

From what you have described, you have built a foundation of love and respect with your son, followed by a painful period of transition.  What is most important is that you built that foundation together and the love that you have for him and that he has for you still remains strong, it just needs to be revitalized…and it will be.  It has already begun by you reaching out to him.

Of course there are mixed emotions between the two of you and you can speculate how he feels, but the bottom line is that people innately want to love and be loved and you both have that desire.  He wants his father just as much as you want your son.  If you both have the same goal, the obstacles between you will dissipate as your hearts reunite.  Does this mean he won’t be hurt and angry still? Absolutely not.  He needs to work through his own confusion, distrust and insecurity, but the more you prove to both of you that you are in this for the long haul, his feelings will slowly, but steadily change.

You mentioned that being honest is the best thing and that is true. It will be good to speak from the heart as much as you can, but that does not mean you have to use words to do this.  Say what you feel you have to say, but only that.  Your presence, the hug you give him, the look on your face, will be communication enough without the need to fill the space with words.  When you speak from your heart, you will speak your truth and he will know that you mean it, in spite of any lingering discomfort he feels.

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Q&A My Perspective: Is it Ever Too Late to Heal Broken Relationships?

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Q&A My Perspective: Is it Ever Too Late to Heal Broken Relationships?

QUESTION

Father’s Day is coming up and I know my husband would love nothing more than to spend the day with all three of his children, but he has not seen his oldest 13 year old son (from a previous marriage) in almost two years after a disagreement with his mother.  I am considering contacting his mother to arrange for him to come for a visit for Father’s Day. They have no relationship right now and I am wondering if it is ever too late to mend a relationship. Would love your thoughts on this.

MY PERSPECTIVE

Two years to grown ups goes by fast, but two years to a child feels like a lifetime.  All the more reason why now is the perfect time to start mending one of the most important relationships this boy will ever have.

Depending on what caused the damage, it is never too late to repair the damage that has been done, especially at the age of 13. Teenage years are a critical time of continuous change and development.  It’s the time when children start looking at themselves as individuals and start separating from their families as they try on new personas and relationships.  They begin to turn to their friends more as a source for connectedness, but they still need and want their parents’ approval, no matter what their actions or words say.

Their vision of self is largely based on how they think others view them. For example, if they are consistently told they are a great athlete, they will see themselves as a great athlete.  If they are told they are terrible at math, they will think they are math skill deficient.  When their parent is involved and shows interest in their life, it increases their sense of self worth. If their parent is absent in their life, it feels like they are being told they are not worthwhile to be around.   They will more likely feel a gap in connectedness and spend time trying to fill the void they can’t understand.  Children crave that bond with their parents. And often when they say they don’t, it’s out of self protection to not let their guard down and show their perceived weakness and vulnerability.  We all want to be loved and cared for, its just how it is.

I, of course, am generalizing, and there are ALWAYS exceptions, but its typical human nature to desire these connections, at any age.

As for your situation, I am excited at the prospect of you re-connecting a father and his son to start filling the void for both of them in the most loving and natural way.  It may not happen in fairy tale fashion, but the attempt is step one in mending the relationship.  It will take time to rebuild what’s been damaged and create a missing trust, but with time, consistency and patience, it will undoubtedly be worthwhile for them both.

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Traditional Bliss

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Traditional Bliss

It seems a little early in my blogging career for a re-post, but this just felt timely.

Boots, hats & mittens…check. Camera…check. Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate…check.  Super Excited Can’t Wait to Do This Attitude…check. Remind my husband that the weekend after Thanksgiving is absolutely the best time to get your Christmas tree and it really won’t fall down on you three times this year after we decorate it…check.  Buy a new, improved tree stand to replace last year’s…damn, I knew I’d forget something.

Traditions.  We all have them, need them, live for them.  They are the moments we recall from childhood of the hopefully warm memories spent with family or friends doing the same activity or celebration each year.  I love tradition.  It makes me feel safe, comfortable and in a life full of continuous changes, like something may actually stay the same if I can hold on to it in my head.  I also love building traditions for my children.  My favorites include trick or treating with our cousins, Thanksgiving in an overcrowded dining room so we can all be together, decorating the kitchen the night before the kids’ birthdays and leaving a trail of gifts in their bedroom.  Vacationing on “our” lake in Maine with our extended family and playing Monopoly until late night (which is 9 pm in Maine).  And of course, cutting down our Christmas tree.

Now there are some traditions I could live without.  Wondering what the going rate of the Tooth Fairy is at the time of the lost tooth.  There is just no consistency there.  And the crazy Elf on the Shelf I started last year.  Hiding that little guy is a commitment.  And then forgetting you put him in a bowl for safe keeping in the back of your cupboard and mindlessly taking him out in the summer when using the bowl and having your kids be traumatized by the sight of him sitting on the refrigerator.  “I thought he lived in the North Pole!” they exclaimed.  “Well, just like Santa he’s always watching for good behavior and he stops by to visit every now and then. You never know when he’s around,” I explain.  A bit creepy and they were over it and back to their normal behavior in less than an hour.  Not sure if it’s worth the commitment.

There’s something amazing that occurs when we create traditions for our children. Besides the fact that it gives us something to look forward to, it reminds them that no matter how crazy life can get, we always have some semblance of “normal” to rely on.  It may be a special dinner to celebrate the little things or love notes in their backpack. Or the same book they read once a year or songs sung on certain occasions.  Maybe it’s the way you tell them you adore them that no one else can recreate. No matter what they are, traditions offer comfort and consistency that we may not get anywhere else.

There’s also something amazing that occurs when we follow the traditions we create.  It reminds us of the past years and how much our children have grown and either how much we appreciate them or how quickly they are growing up and how desperately we want it to slow down. We recall the past memories and laugh at the folly or cry when we miss someone who is no longer experiencing it with us. Retelling stories and reliving memories in the here and now of togetherness and musing over what will happen next year. Traditions reflect where we’ve been, where we are and where we hope to be.

As time goes on, I hope to continually be creating more traditions with and for my children.  Partially for them, but mostly for me.  Miniature glimpses of time and space I will hold on to, to keep the fast paced life seem a bit slower, fuller and with reason to remember the little events which make our days meaningful.  And with any luck, I will remember to buy that new, improved tree stand to make next year’s memories just that much better.

Update: My husband bought the new tree stand last year, apparently after the fourth time the tree fell, but never used it.  This year, so far, so good.

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Q&A When You’re Not the Evil Stepmother

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Q&A When You’re Not the Evil Stepmother

QUESTION

I was wondering if you had any suggestions for books that I could read.  I am a stepmother to two kids, I have been their step mom for 3 years.  We also have 2 additional girls.  We need help with communication.  The kids’ mom is a hot head and is starting to put them in the middle of things because she is jealous and wants things to be her way or the highway, and we have told her NO!  She’s gone crazy!  And trying to find fault anywhere she can with my husband and particularly with me so she can take them away from us.  We split custody 50/50, but starting in the beginning of this past year, I have taken care of them after school Mon-Fri and had them with me and the girls all summer.  I understand the natural jealousy and threat she must feel with the fact that I spend the most time with them.  Anyway, what are your thoughts? -A Concerned Stepmom

MY PERSPECTIVE

The Courage to be a Stepmom by Sue Patton Thoele is a fantastic book choice. The author is a psychotherapist who has walked the path and lives to write about it. It comes HIGHLY recommended.

The first question is, what is the goal here? Or more specifically, what is the goal for you and what is the goal for the children?  What is the best way to achieve balance and unity in this situation?

When communicating with the other parent, your spouse needs to be the main show.  You are an equal party in your marriage, but when it comes to managing the relationship with his children’s mother, it is his responsibility to be the first line of offense (or defense depending on how you see it) and support you along the way.

Communication is going to be vital and a challenge at times.  The intensity of the emotion that comes with the protectiveness we feel for our children and any hurt or anger we feel ourselves can become an obstacle.  In any form of communication, once one party feels defensive and attacked, the communication can become blocked and shut down.  The goal becomes defending yourself and not as much hearing what the other person has to say. That will be the challenge.

If a disagreement between you does arise, focus on the fact that you do not have control over how you are spoken to, what is said or the way it said, but you do have control over how you respond.  Make it clear how you expect to be spoken to and how to respectfully meet your needs.  If the person you are speaking to becomes irrational, do your best to remain calm and keep your points simple and clear.  Feeding fire with fire only creates a bigger blaze, making it less manageable to control and creating lasting damage even after it burns out.

When it comes to the children, do whatever you can not to ever bad mouth the other parent.  When we speak negatively of someone, we are attempting to sway the person we are telling to side with us and pick an allegiance.  Inadvertently asking a child to pick an allegiance of those they are supposed to trust is unfair, unnecessary and hurtful, no matter which direction it goes in.  It is extremely important to model behavior and respect for everyone in the family because children learn what they see and experience.  Every interaction we have with others, teaches them how to treat people and us! Again, you can not control how they perceive the interactions between you and the other parent, but you can definitely control how you engage and what you model.

The best part of this is that you are in complete control of how you handle and view this situation, which is both empowering and comforting.  No matter what happens, you get to call the shots as to how you will respond. Not to say it’s easy (and may even feel impossible at times) to let go of the frustration and the moments where you feel your hands are tied, but when you step back and realize that you can change your perspective, your viewpoint, your attitude, at any moment, you have the ability to maintain your balance each step of the way.

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