January 27, 2010
“I am divorced and now live with my girlfriend. My two teenage daughters live with us. The problem is the daughters are very lazy and don’t do much around the house and leave it in a mess. They don’t have much respect and have bad attitudes. My girlfriend is fed up and can’t handle it anymore. We have tried talking to them and asking them to shape up but it only works for a few weeks. My girlfriend says she cannot live in the house with the girls and she is thinking about moving out. I’m stuck between sending my girls to their mother (which they don’t want) or losing my girlfriend.”
Your daughters have more power
Stand up to your daughters -- it is a part of love
than you, your girlfriend, or they, can handle. Increase your tolerance for their pain by standing up to them despite the fallout. This is sometimes expected of a loving parent.
Encourage your girlfriend and daughters to discuss their problematic areas face-to-face. Go out while they do it. This might help all three women grow up.
My hunch is that your domestic issues are not about your unhappy trio or an untidy home. I believe they center on your inability to define what you want from life and the willingness to do all it takes to get it.
October 15, 2009
I have had several letters
Pushing, will push back...
, and also face-to-face discussions, about adult men and women who are inappropriately attached to a parent. This attachment is almost always financial: the parent has signed a loan; the parent has agreed to pay off a debt; the parent feels he or she must pay the rent for the son or daughter.
The attachment, while being uncomfortable for the cheque-signing parent, is also a problem for others impacted by the agreement (or the manipulation). Frequently it is a problem for a stepparent who was taken unaware by a financial burden not of his or her own making.
While I would encourage parents NOT to sign for loans, agree to pay rent and become embroiled over financial issues over which he or she has no direct responsibility or control, it is important to note that while the other adult (stepparent) sees it as his or her mission to untie the financial embroilments, the binds will not be eased.
Trying to get a spouse to “see the light” is as difficult as trying to get a financially irresponsible adult child to “be responsible.” The tyranny will only begin to ease when the one who is signing the cheques gets over the associated guilt and stops doing so.
December 10, 2008
“My twins (15) have always been close to my husband who is their step-dad. Now, recently, they seem to be going against him and wanting to be with their (biological) dad. Their father has been absent for almost all their lives and their step-dad has been a father to them. Why would they now want to be with someone who has done so little for them and almost reject someone who has done so much? What must I do? This doesn’t make sense at all.”
You are applying simple logic to very complex dynamics. Your children are apparently obeying the call of their invisible loyalties. I’d suggest (unless there are circumstances you have not divulged and he is in some manner dangerous) you get out of the way and provide a platform for them to better know their father.
Avoid being the go-between for the children and their stepfather. If your husband has come this far with the twins he can probably handle the shift in their loyalties. Ultimately I believe things will settle, and the children will know who he is and how much he has already loved them.
November 15, 2008
“I’m currently living with my fiancé and his two daughters who are 11 and 13). Their mother moved a fair distance away right after the divorce. They would have had joint custody if she stayed, however, she chose to move away to her new boyfriend and have a new baby. Despite everything the girls have gone through, they have always treated me with respect. They are such sweet open hearted individuals that I really look up to. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it if my mother had moved away from me at that age. There are times when they act up and frustrate both their dad and me but it’s really just normal stuff all kids do.
“For all stepparents, the fact that you are even there willing to be part of the family and show love to the children is something very special on its own. That takes a special someone. But yet, ‘evil step mom or dad’ are under constant scrutiny from the ones who really made ‘the choice’ to be a parent yet not be around. Stepparents should get a medal for everything they have to endure.”
October 16, 2008
When families blend by moving in together, or through marriage, the impact upon the children, and the time taken for adjustment ought never be underestimated or taken for granted. Because the children might think it is a good idea or are pleased at the decision to “unite,” it should not be construed that the road ahead will be easy. I have talked with children who wanted parents to divorce because they considered it “cool” to live in two homes. I have talked with children who thought moving in together would be fun because the new house had a swimming pool.
It can take a day or two (or even a month, or a year!) for reality to set in. It can take time for child to realize the move (the new marriage, the parent’s new relationship) has turned his or her own world upside down, even if he or she previously thought it to be a positive thing to do.
Parent, please remember: (1) you have fallen in love with someone new. It is unreasonable of you to think your children ought therefore to “automatically” love your new partner or love the new living arrangements. (2) You will spare yourself a lot of heartache if you, the parent, do not meddle with previously established relationships. Let moms and dads deal directly with their own children. Your interference, no matter how welcome, benign, or benevolent, will ultimately be a source of conflict.
October 15, 2008
I have known my boyfriend for eight months and recently moved in with him. He has a son (11) and a daughter (15) who come every Wednesday and every second weekend. My three young children live with us. When we discussed the move with all the children together they seemed very happy. We discussed house rules and who would be sharing rooms. So far all has worked well with four of the five children. His son however complains of headaches and stomach aches and makes comments like ‘I would rather be at mom’s house’ and ‘I need time alone.’ My son has moved into his room with him and they get on quite well. His son had his father to himself for about four years where they did everything together. I understand that this must be very difficult adjustment for him but it is causing some conflict between his father and me. How I can help him to feel more comfortable without us having to move out to let him have his father back? (Shortened)
Do all you can to get out of their way. It’s the father’s issue, not yours. Regard it as a pre-existing condition. I am surprised only one child is reacting to the change. I will say more on this tomorrow.
October 12, 2008
“You never win when you are a stepparent because the child comes first and the child can never be wrong in the parents’ eyes. If any stepparent says anything negative about the child regardless how young or old, we will always be seen as the evil one. My ‘fiancé’ said we will not get married until his son and I get along which means he wants me to look the other way when his son orders me around and talks to me anyway he wants too because daddy isn’t going to do anything about it. But I will not put up with it either from anyone but my own parents. I am forty and no twelve-year-old has the right to tell me what to do. I hate being a so-called stepparent. It’s making my life a living hell and I am so miserable because I am always the one to blame for everything!”
I’d suggest both “daddy” and “stepmother” do a little growing up before walking down the aisle. When a forty-year-old writes like an angry twelve year old might write, I can only wonder what’s going on in the home! Stop fighting. Get some distance. You are not peers and yet is seems you are fighting like angry little siblings. Besides, if you hate it before you’re married you most certainly won’t find it too attractive once you are. What is in this for you? A man who treats you like a child and a boy with whom you seem to have issues of sibling rivalry. Then, and I must ask, why do you, an adult, allow your parents to treat you with any degree of disregard? Herein perhaps lies something of the root of the issue.
September 29, 2008
“My stepmother is nicer to me and to my children than is my biological mother. My dad married her when I was a teenager and I resisted her being in our family. My father told me that I’d better get used to it and that I’d better do all I could to get along with the new arrangement. I still kicked against it for a while but things settled down and we ‘found’ each other. Now my problem is I find her easier to relate to than my own mother! While I do not detect any jealousy or bad feelings, it is a little uncomfortable for my family when my children enjoy my stepmother a little more than they do my own mother. My mother is not a problem; she is simply less people and family-orientated. What do you think?” (Lifted, with permission, from face-to-face conversation)
Sounds like a “normal family stuff” to me. You (understandably) resisted. Someone (your father) stood up to you. The whole family apparently learned a lot. Essentially, you gained from the strong messages received from your father – and, as a result, you grew up. You are probably more aware than most people seem to be of how long it can take for a family to adjust and grow and learn to love. Drop the “step” label. It seems to serve no purpose, and I’d give up using it completely. Of course, I appreciate you needed the label to relay your story to me, but you probably don’t need it in daily living. It is an unnecessary term which is quite loaded with negativity for many people.
September 27, 2008
“My husband is 16 years older, and his daughter is 12 years younger, than me. She is 22. She told her father she doesn’t feel part of this family and gets hurt every time she sees me. I’m kind to her but she takes ‘shots’ at me, which I have mistakenly shrugged it off. I don’t confront well. I’m hurt that she always finds fault with me. I have to bite my tongue around her, which isn’t working. When she visits I put on my ‘parenting hat’ and listen to how she feels but I really want to blow up at her for walking all over me. It’s my fault for not setting boundaries. She’s bright, immature, narcissistic, beautiful, funny, and emotional. I love her, and am unsure of my role and how to do myself with her. I don’t want to hurt her or be hurt by her.” (Shortened)
This young woman appears to have too much power over you. Remove and discard your “parenting hat.” She’s a fellow adult who is not behaving very well while a guest in your home. Until you challenge her, and until she learns to stand up to you (as opposed to manipulate you) neither of you will realize the full joy and potential of being in each other’s lives.
September 12, 2008
You have frequently written that live-in boyfriends or girlfriends or even step-parents, ought to avoid disciplining the children of a significant other. I have never really believed you as it seems counter-cultural to think that one adult be left with the load of guiding and disciplining children when there is another in the house who may be able to help. Please clarify. (Question “lifted” from tone of a longer letter).
A blended family will tend to work better when respect or deference is given to primary and longer-standing relationships.
When an adult moves in with a mother or father who is already parenting children, and begins to exercise authority, while this might be a welcome relief and a great help to all involved, it is a disturbance (small or large) of a deeper and more fundamental invisible loyalty.
Someone in the original relationship will begin to resist the intrusion even if the intrusion is helpful and benign. This is one of many reasons even good and kind stepparents are often rejected.
[Of course, this is not the “whole truth” or even meant to suggest there are not many factors and variables that influence such relationships — it is merely one, partial view.]