Archive for ‘Stepfather’

May 11, 2020

All we can ask of our adolescent sons and daughters

by Rod Smith

The divine parent/adolescent exchange:

I expect you to tell me the truth to the same degree I have told you the truth. I do not expect you to tell me everything. I know you have parts of your life that has little or even nothing to do with me. I expect and welcome this.

I do expect you to tell me things that reasonably high functioning families consider important. If it, whatever “it” is, impacts you immediately and significantly or is likely to take me by surprise now or in the future, I want to know about it. I want to know about it as soon as possible. Of course, it goes both ways!

I expect you to offer me the same degree of freedom as I have offered you. I do not treat you like room service or 911 and I want the same respect in return.

I expect you will progressively pay your own way beginning around 16. This means you will assume all the costs related to your life as you work and earn more. I hope you will continue to apply the same aptitude to creating your great future as you have to creating your great success at school. While I will always be proud of your successes, they will always be yours,  not mine.

I expect you to write well, read well, and communicate well.

February 21, 2018

Helicopter parents

by Rod Smith

It’s easy to knock so-called helicopter parents – the ever-present, ever-serving, ever advocating parents who are perpetually running interference with schools and coaches, often in ways that can be stifling, even damaging the very children around whom they hover.

All behavior has meaning. Parents “helicopter” their children (I’m amused that I used “helicopter” as a verb) for deep, powerful and hidden reasons, reasons often vastly beyond simple formulae or fixes.

What I do know is that it has nothing to do with the child. I’d motivate for understanding, empathy, awareness, and acceptance for the helicopter parent. Perhaps it is fear driven. Perhaps there’s a lack of trust with that lack originating long before the child was born. Perhaps the child is regarded as a lifeline to something saner, something more tolerable than the parent has ever known. Perhaps the parent has been used and discarded in the past and is dead set on safeguarding the child so history will not be repeated. Perhaps the marriage is perched precariously on hopes of the child’s success.

There are reasons to fear, lack trust, to want a life more powerful and meaningful than the parent may have known.

Empathy, awareness, acceptance, and understanding may go a long way to secure the helicopter’s safe landing rather than the humor or rejection used to shoot it down.

March 14, 2017

I ask a woman….

by Rod Smith

I ask a woman how her life is going and she tells me about her children. She’s very forthcoming. I hear about their failures and successes and their disappointments and their accomplishments in sports.

So I ask again how she is enjoying her life and she tells me about her children’s teachers and how dedicated they are and how they go the extra mile for her sons and how much she appreciates it and how happy her sons are at school.

I persist and ask her if she has any close friends and how much time she spends with her peers and she tells me how her sons’ friendships are a little disappointing to her and that sometimes they get left off birthday party lists and how much it hurts her when that happens and how she wishes adults were more sensitive to her children.

I ask the same woman who happens to also be a wife how she is enjoying her husband and she tells me they “work together” as parents and they are almost always on the “same page.”

I press in and ask the woman if she has a life outside of being a mom and she gives me that blank look as if I have no idea what I am talking about.

March 12, 2017

I remind myself of these things….

by Rod Smith

When it comes to my sons, I remind myself of these things:

  • Their lives are larger at their ages than mine was at their ages. Of course, they’re starting late and the world is a very different place. Their platforms are more complex, and more dynamic than mine was and, I admit, I am somewhat limited in my ability to identify with it. This means I should not be taken aback when I am blinded to possibilities and experiences they see and want to embrace. Rejecting an idea or a possibility simply because I couldn’t envision it is a good way to widen a gap than is mine, and not theirs, to bridge.
  • While the world is a very different place than it was in my formative years, some things remain unchanged. Good manners, using please and thank you, looking people in the eye, standing up for adults, dealing honestly with money and time, working hard, and displaying empathy in the face of those who are suffering – are values that cannot be discarded just because the world is faster paced than it once was. One of my jobs as a parent is to encourage, even enforce some of these things if necessary.
  • I am enough for my sons and the only dad they will ever need.
March 2, 2017

My heart goes out to the….

by Rod Smith
  • My heart goes out to children who live in unsettled houses. Houses where the abuse of alcohol or drugs dominates everything. Houses where rage rips people apart.
  • My heart goes out to children whose parents were once together and now are apart. Although the child may have received loving messages about how they are loved despite what mother and father do it still makes no sense to the child.
  • My heart goes out to children who are fighting a deadly disease and to the siblings who are fighting it with them. The necessary lack of certainty bolstered with statements of faith, all within the same adult sentence, can be confusing. It’s at least as confusing for the child as it is for the adult trying to comfort them.
  • My heart goes out to children whose boundaries are ignored and violated and whose voices are ignored or silenced. Such children might as well be invisible to those commissioned to love and protect them.
  • My heart goes out to the child who must assume a defensive stance because of race, gender, or language.
  • My heart goes out to children who are hungry in a nation of plenty, those born outside the dominant culture, those whose troubles are the fruit of a troubled nation.
June 16, 2011

Step-mother may want to realign her expectations…….

by Rod Smith

“I met my husband when his children were 3 and 7. I thought that I would learn to love someone else’s child and that it would just take time to bond. We are now married with a child of our own. Their biological mom is and has always been trouble and does nothing but try to put both my husband and me down in the kids eyes. The kids are sweet and loving but I still find it hard to bond to them. It’s always ‘my mommy this’ and ‘my mommy that’ and it makes it hard to bond. At times I want it to be me and my child and husband. I know how this sounds but seriously can you tell me I must immediately love and like everyone just because they happen to be smaller. I am not a bad or evil person I simply dislike having to be caring and attentive to another person’s child when I get none of the reward. They will always love their mother more and that’s the way it should be, but I can only take so much rejection. Eventually my heart turns off and I am left wondering why I thought being a step parent would be great.”

Blending families is one of the most difficult relational challenges humans face. Everyone in the family faces difficulties, even the children.

If you feel “unrewarded” you might want to reconsider some of your expectations. Any awards ceremony may only occur, if it ever does, when the children become adults and they reflect that you were a non-possessive, non-anxious, steady presence in their lives at time when their lives had been hit by several large blows all seemingly accosting them at the same time.

So, hold off on expecting much reward. It’s not that you won’t be rewarded; it’s that expecting it in itself suggests you might want to realign the understanding of your role.

Asking young children to love (embrace, accept) a stepmother without feeling disloyalty to their biological mother is asking children to do emotional acrobatics that most adults could not do.

If you want your “new” family to survive the continued presence of his “old” family, then I’d suggest you do not make too much of the distinction. “Us” and “them” doesn’t bode well for any human community let alone a blended family. Also, stay out of being the front line of discipline for “his” children: messing with invisible loyalties is a sure fire way to detonate the anger abiding already in the family system.

June 14, 2011

Children in a tug-of-war

by Rod Smith

“My son and his wife are in a constant battle with his ex-wife and her family. They want the grandchildren ALL the time and seem to never think of their new family as really part of the children. I hardly know my new step-grandchildren but I’d rather that than step into the middle of the battle for time with the children. Should I be working harder to get to know these children so they will know me one day or should I just let things be as they are for now?”

It's a fine line......

If there are already tensions regarding who the children ought to know and visit then I’d suggest you follow your intuition which suggest you remain out of the tug-of-war.

Children will readily pick up on surrounding stresses and tensions and will ultimately use them to their benefit – and not necessarily to the benefit of the adults who use the children as bargaining chips.

Stay out of conflicts that do not directly involve you. Your daughter and her husband are presumably adult enough to represent themselves in their own battles.

April 25, 2011

Children and happiness

by Rod Smith

“I see my first responsibility, as a parent, is to make my children have a happy childhood so they can have a happy life. Please comment.”

Good luck. While it is a nice ideal you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Your children’s happiness is ultimately their responsibility and not yours. The sooner they assume it the better.

If you, the parent, work hard at your own life and make the very best of your skills and talents it is more likely that you will have children who will do the same.

If you focus all of your attention on your children and on trying to make them happy it is likely you will create insatiable, demanding, and entitled men and women who are more than a challenge to all who know them.

Of course I am not suggesting parents ought to intentionally create tough lives in order to amplify challenge – this would be ridiculous.

I’d suggest you focus on providing a loving and challenging platform for your children to achieve well in all areas of their lives and get out of their way as much as possible.

Success, and reaching for success, is what results in fulfillment. I’d take “fulfillment” or “useful” or “purposeful” over the illusive state called “happiness” anytime.

December 6, 2010

A dozen ways to know your teenager is growing up…

by Rod Smith

He or she:
1. cleans his or her room
2. voluntarily gets a haircut
3. saves money
4. stops blaming everyone for anything
5. takes full responsibility for his or her decisions
6. greets you with kindness
7. stands up for himself or herself without compromising others
8. demonstrates healthy boundaries by choosing friends who are good for him or her
9. has plans for her life that stretch beyond the next few days
10. reads books and newspapers by choice
11. can engage in a meaningful discussion about world events
12. is assertive without being pushy and demanding

July 9, 2010

Flying with children – 10 ways to make it to cloud 9!

by Rod Smith

Flying with children? It’s a pleasure – usually. Long hauls, short hauls – bring it on. I accessed our multiple frequent flyer accounts, having just gotten home to the Midwest (USA) from Sydney, Australia, to see my sons (8 and 12) and I have up racked up well over a million miles – and most of it as a family. My elder son had Premier Executive status with United Airlines by age 2.

If you and your children are flying anywhere this summer here are some ways to make flying with children a delight:

Ohare and my boys....

1. Anxiety is contagious – so relax. Get your focus off your children. Quit worrying about how they will behave, whether the baby will cry or not, and all the things that so easily get a parent going. Worrying upsets children. The calmer you are, the calmer your children will be.

2. Trust your children. By age seven each of my sons could find his way around several terminals, check himself into a flight, handle his passport, and respond to questions from customs and immigration officials. My sons have not had to do any unaccompanied flying, but I have used endless hours in airports, often during unexpected layovers around the world to teach them everything they need to know about being international travelers.

3. Trust most of your fellow passengers. You’re sitting in airports and on planes with parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts – people who don’t know your children but who know children. Recruit help when you need it. As a single dad I had to regularly ask someone to hold the baby while I ushered my toddler to the restroom.

4. Trust the flight crew. I am yet to encounter an unfriendly flight attendant when it comes to my children. Flight attendants have taken my children on walks, entertained them in the galley, and yes, even quite recently have taken them into the cockpit!

Nathanael seated across the aisle

5. Regard flying as an exciting slice of real life – not something tedious and overwhelming. It’s a joyous adventure, not a life-sentence! It’s only as big a deal as you make it.

6. Get over the uptight, sighing, dirty-stare passenger who feels above flying near a baby or with children. Your children have as much right to fly as any other ticketed passengers. If Mr. Grumpy World Traveler is bemoaning your child’s presence on a plane, imagine what he’s like at home with his children.

7. Don’t medicate children for your convenience – on or off the plane. Doing so will probably work against you one day.

8. Teach you children cabin etiquette and how things work – just as you teach good hygiene and table manners. Overhead lights, window shades, upright seatbacks, fold-down tables, using call-lights, seat belts, and the uses and rules associated with each are very interesting to young children – the sooner the children know cabin etiquette the better.

They've seen the world, but LOVE Indy!

9. Let your children speak for themselves. My children regularly ask to switch their kid’s meal option for an adult meal – and usually end up with both! They repeatedly ask how many hours are left in the flight, or what city is immediately below us, and personal questions about the captain. Don’t get in the middle or run interference. Flight crews, often also parents, can handle your children and a whole lot more. Trust them.

10. As far as it is possible, only use carry-on baggage. This speeds progress though airports and increases flexibility when there are flight changes or cancellations. Efficiency means less time and opportunity for moodiness! From as young as possible (I chose 6), let each child be fully responsible for his or her own possessions. Each of my boys packs his own bag, monitors its whereabouts at all times, and is fully responsible for getting it on and off the plane. I don’t allow my children to pack their things in my bags and nor do I put my stuff in their bags. I do not allow them to help each other out with their luggage. Such “helping” is not helpful as it only adds to confusion and finger-pointing when things go missing or, if for any reason, stress levels increase.”You pack it, you care for it, you carry it” – is one of our many mottoes.

(Rod Smith, a single parent to two boys each adopted at birth, teaches internationally for Youth With a Mission in the summers, and at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis during the academic year. Rod is a Family Therapist, writer, and teacher.)