How do I help my kids cope with the new "stepmom" and sibs at dad's house? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 17 Old 08-29-2009, 11:00 PM - Thread Starter
 
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My X and I have been divorced for less than a year. Part of the reason for the divorce was his affair with an old college girlfriend. She lived out of state and they got in touch again a couple years ago through the internet. Since the divorce she has come a few times to visit and brought her kids along with her for about 10 days last Spring.

Now the mom and her 2 kids have moved here. Her kids are 10 and 5, and mine are 9 and 6. My kids don't much like her kids. They say her kids are "spoiled brats" and get to do whatever they want. I've never met the kids, only heard the stories that my kids have told. But what seems to bother them more is the way Daddy acts with her kids. My DD said she feels like she and her brother are the guests and the kids of the GF are his kids. I've encouraged them to talk to their dad, and I've assured them that their dad loves them very much. What else should I be doing to help them make this transition? I suspect part of what's difficult for them is that they are aware that the GF was around while we were still married. I've never talked to them about that whole part of the story. I feel like it's not my place. But sounds like their dad hasn't said anything either. Should I bring it up?
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#2 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 04:53 AM
 
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as someone who had to go trough something very similar when I was 5 don't just talk to your kids talk to your exh. If he doesn't know what they feel he can't fix anything. It is very intimidating for kids to bring something this huge up on their own I know I couldn't do it and my mum didn't do it for us. This sort of thing it worth to have a family meeting invite dad along but not the new firl and kids go somewhere neutral for dinner. make a list with the kids before hand of all the things that bother them and discuss a way to talk about it before you go. Not knowing your x I don't know how he'd react to this but many people would get defensive so I guess you need to prepare for that.

Good luck and give your kids a hug I know how hard it is being in that situation!

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#3 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 09:00 AM - Thread Starter
 
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It would be great if I could talk to him about this, but unfortunately for all of us he's very angry and resentful and I am the last person who could tell him anything about his kids or what he should or shouldn't do. He will not step foot in my house, will not take my calls, will only respond to e-mails. So while I would love to do something like a family meeting as you suggest, that is just not a possibility at this time. I have encouraged them to talk to their dad and my DD says she has.
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#4 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 10:43 AM
 
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I wonder if your kids would benefit for talking with a counselor about this? Sometimes it helps to talk to someone a little more removed from the situation. Then maybe the counselor could call your ex with some suggestions to help ease the transition (maybe he would take the counselor's call even if he won't speak with you?).

I definitely would not say anything to your kids about the sordid history of the relationship. I wish my mom wouldn't have shared so many details about the end of she and my father's relationship when I was a kid. It had a big part in ruining my relationship with my dad until I was an adult. In reality, what are they going to do with that information? Most likely they will be angry with their father and the girlfriend, and what seems to be a stressful situation for them will only get worse. I remember feeling that I "had" to be mad at my dad for wronging my mom. It colored my view of everything that he did. I stopped seeing him once I was a teenager, but most involved parents probably wouldn't be okay with that. So your kids will be forced to spend time in a contentious situation.

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#5 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 11:11 AM
 
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My dd is going through something very similar. I have her in counseling and that seems to be helping.

I feel like you're living my life, lol.

She was just at the wedding reception and baby naming (her little sister) last night.

It's hard.

Counseling, counseling, counseling.
And keep reminding them that daddy loves them.
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#6 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 11:12 AM
 
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ack, double post. Sorry.
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#7 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 11:38 AM
 
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Originally Posted by NolaRiordan View Post
I suspect part of what's difficult for them is that they are aware that the GF was around while we were still married. I've never talked to them about that whole part of the story. I feel like it's not my place. But sounds like their dad hasn't said anything either. Should I bring it up?
I really don't think that you should bring it up. DSD is 16, her parents separated when she was two. She still is blissfully unaware of what exactly her mom did at that time, and it was a number of pretty bad things. The reality is, kids are kids, and they deserve to be left out of adult drama. Parents are meant to protect their kids, and not to make their lives more difficult. What will the kid do with such information: "your mom/dad slept around, and that is why we divorced"? What will it accomplish? Sway loyalty to one parent, and impose a lot of guilt and pain. The truth is, as much as I am appalled at what DSD mom did to a man that I believe love her very much, I really believe that she loves her kid, and ruining their relationship with such information would cause hurt to DSD but certainly will not resolve anything. So be careful as to WHY you feel compelled to even think "should I tell my kids their dad cheated?"

As to how they feel at his house... I think they are in very tough shoes. Imagine you go to a place only for two days vs. living at a place full time. At this point, your ex and his gf and her kids live their full time. It's very tough to compete with for your two little ones. I think it is well expected that they will feel out of place, since they are the only ones going back and forth, AND they are there only for a weekend at a time. Even if we assume the best about this woman and her two kids, your children are expected to feel a certain level of resentment, kwim? What your husband can do to fix the situation is to make sure he spends at least some one-on-one time with them, AND that everyone does something fun together as a family.

DSD felt hurt and upset when I came into the picture permanently. So much so, that she said she won't come see her dad if I moved in with him (she never followed up on that threat). She had a really tough time with the fact that she has to leave every Sunday and that I would stay here with him, enjoying his company, when she had to go back. She felt jealous, and acted out towards me, and said that her dad didn't care about her. All of that went on for a few YEARS, all the while she is he dad's world. He always picked her up, called every day, went to school fairs/parent teacher conferences/ chorus recitals, paid CS and then some for extras, and scheduled all of his adult life around his daughter.

What I'm trying to say... It was tough. On every level. And whether or not the kids and stepmom are nice or not, the kids are going to feel left out and hurt. It's a shame that your ex can't even pick up a phone, even if it concerns the children. It is great to let the kids know that they can always talk to you. But do not encourage tension. It will put even more strain on already disfunctional relationship with this new family. Just listen to them, and do what you did - encourage to talk to their dad. There is not much else you can do, other than to offer the children to see a therapist (it doesn't sound like their dad would go for it).

Good luck, and in there!

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#8 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 12:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the suggestions. My instinct was not to say anything to them about the relationship with the GF existing before the divorce, so I'm glad to hear that's the prevailing wisdom.

Counseling is another good suggestion that sadly will not work in my case because X will not agree. I took my DD to be assessed for counseling after I moved out because she was exhibiting a lot of anxiety. Because we have joint legal custody we both have to agree on any medical decisions. The counselor called X several times and he never picked up the phone. Then she wrote him a letter with her assessment and suggested that DD would benefit from some continued counseling. He wrote her a letter back and cc'ed the judge and basically told her to cease and desist and under no circumstances was she to see his kids. After consulting with my lawyer and considering some of the other circumstances I decided not to pursue it. So if I was going to take the kids to counseling for this or any other issue I'd have to have it ordered by a judge.
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#9 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 08:51 PM
 
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Because we have joint legal custody we both have to agree on any medical decisions....So if I was going to take the kids to counseling for this or any other issue I'd have to have it ordered by a judge.
You might double check this. I have joint legal custody with my ex (but primary physical custody) and our decree outlines that we are to confer with each other on medical decisions, but that the final decision lies with me. It's very inefficient for you to have to contact him for every medical decision. And if it is necessary to have counseling court ordered, I would pursue it. I would also pursue having that part of your decree altered as it could cause issues down the line for other medical decisions.

Mama/stepmama of 4 goofy girls (7/99, 11/00, 4/03, and 12/08) and co-parent with my favorite husband. We do this stuff - : : : : : :
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#10 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 09:22 PM
 
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joint legal doesnt work like that.
As the primary custodial parent, you can still make decisions on your own. He could TRY to fight you, but what judge is going to side with him AGAINST counseling? uh..none that i can think of, and your ex would look like an absoute arse in front of the judge for trying to prevent counseling. if your lawyer actually told you he could prevent you from taking your kid to a counselor, I'd be getting a new one and quick!
At the VERY LEAST, even if you have some weird thing which allows him to veto decisions, you could always simply petition the court for it. again - I can't imgine any judge anywhere ruling against counseling.

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#11 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 09:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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You might double check this.
Thanks. Yes, I have done quite a bit of research on the whole thing. In my state this is the default. And yes it is a royal pain in the butt.
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#12 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 09:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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joint legal doesnt work like that.
As the primary custodial parent, you can still make decisions on your own. He could TRY to fight you, but what judge is going to side with him AGAINST counseling? uh..none that i can think of, and your ex would look like an absoute arse in front of the judge for trying to prevent counseling. if your lawyer actually told you he could prevent you from taking your kid to a counselor, I'd be getting a new one and quick!
At the VERY LEAST, even if you have some weird thing which allows him to veto decisions, you could always simply petition the court for it. again - I can't imgine any judge anywhere ruling against counseling.
We have 50-50 legal and physical. Again, that is the default here. I talked to 3 lawyers who told me the same thing-- unless one person doesn't want 50-50 or one person is a documented abuser that's what you get. All medical and education decisions have to be made jointly. Our judge is very hands off. This is a fairly small town and my lawyer has quite a bit of experience with him. My lawyer said a few years ago he would have guaranteed a judge would order counseling, but now he said he didn't know. It's hard to know when counseling works and if one parent is against it the judge is likely not going to go out on a limb. So to get this changed would be a difficult expensive fight which I may need to take on some day. But at the moment this is the situation I have.

I'm still very interested in any other thoughts or experiences with helping my kids transition to this new situation at their dad's.
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#13 of 17 Old 08-30-2009, 09:58 PM
 
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e. Then she wrote him a letter with her assessment and suggested that DD would benefit from some continued counseling. He wrote her a letter back and cc'ed the judge and basically told her to cease and desist and under no circumstances was she to see his kids. After consulting with my lawyer and considering some of the other circumstances I decided not to pursue it. So if I was going to take the kids to counseling for this or any other issue I'd have to have it ordered by a judge.
I agree, that's very strange. Certainly doesn't paint a very favorable picture when comes to your ex. Ugh!
Hope you can work around it somehow.

New endeavor coming soon...
Raising Alice in Wonderland (DSD, 17), and in love with a Superman
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#14 of 17 Old 08-31-2009, 01:27 PM
 
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As to how they feel at his house... I think they are in very tough shoes. Imagine you go to a place only for two days vs. living at a place full time. At this point, your ex and his gf and her kids live their full time. It's very tough to compete with for your two little ones. I think it is well expected that they will feel out of place, since they are the only ones going back and forth, AND they are there only for a weekend at a time. Even if we assume the best about this woman and her two kids, your children are expected to feel a certain level of resentment, kwim? What your husband can do to fix the situation is to make sure he spends at least some one-on-one time with them, AND that everyone does something fun together as a family.
Yep, this is what my kids felt. They went from having their own rooms at their Dad's, to having to share, to having the rooms slowly redecorated as the other kids preferred, to now having to stay in the guest room or the sofa. It obviously 'made' sense, since the other kids lived there full time, but it seemed - to ours - that little to no thought was given to their feelings about it.

To add insult to injury, their Dad did/does not make a point of spending one-on-one time with them. It's either all four kids, or both girls, or both boys. However, our son and daughter would like some time with just him, every now and again.

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DSD felt hurt and upset when I came into the picture permanently. So much so, that she said she won't come see her dad if I moved in with him (she never followed up on that threat). She had a really tough time with the fact that she has to leave every Sunday and that I would stay here with him, enjoying his company, when she had to go back. She felt jealous, and acted out towards me, and said that her dad didn't care about her. All of that went on for a few YEARS, all the while she is he dad's world. He always picked her up, called every day, went to school fairs/parent teacher conferences/ chorus recitals, paid CS and then some for extras, and scheduled all of his adult life around his daughter.
One thing I did drum into them was that it would take time for them ALL to get used to the new dynamic and they needed to make a fair effort. At the very least, they were to treat their stepmom and sibs with respect - the same as they would me. Also, that if there were a problem, they needed to talk to their Dad and/or stepmom so it could be solved - just as I couldn't solve a problem happening in our home if I didn't know about it, neither could Dad/stepmom. I gather those attempts didn't tend to be too successful.

Do your best to help your daughter see the positives. Good luck.
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#15 of 17 Old 09-01-2009, 12:48 AM
 
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Since you can't work on the issue directly by talking to their dad, I would focus on supporting your kids and validating their feelings. I think naming their feelings and helping them talk about the difficulties of the situation can go a long way toward helping them adjust. Reflecting back what you hear them saying is a great way to help them feel heard and understood. Things like: "that sounds really sad/hard/frustrating/upsetting." "It must be hard to feel like a guest in your own home." "It sounds like it's hard adjusting to a whole new family living at your dad's house." "It sounds like you feel like you have to compete with your step-siblings for your dad's attention." "You were used to getting your dad all to yourself when you were there and now you have to share him with a lot of other people." "It must be hard to have other kids live there full time and feel like you are just visiting."

Sometimes having your feelings validated and understood by someone you love and trust is enough. Having you give words to how they are feeling might make it easier for them to talk to their dad about it. And understanding how they feel and why might make it easier for them to do some problem solving (on their own or with an adult) to find some ways to make it better.

As for counseling, I'm NOT one to advise finding a way around something the other parent has said in no uncertain terms that they do not want for their child. Even if there is a loophole, their dad says no therapist, you know he doesn't want them to see a therapist, and the judge knows that you know he doesn't want them to see a therapist... I think it is asking for trouble to try to find a way around it, and it sounds like you feel the same way. However, just because your children can't see a therapist doesn't mean they can't talk to an adult about how they feel-- if they have a favorite relative or family friend or a teacher they have a close relationship with, or if you have a friend or relative that has a knack for making you feel better, maybe they could talk to that person. I might just say, "That sounds like a really hard situation. A lot of times when I am feeling upset about a situation, I talk to your Aunt Jenny. She's a really good listener and sometimes helps me see things in a new way. I'm sure she'd be happy to talk to you about this if you think it would help."

Good luck. That sounds like a tough adjustment for any child to make, and it must be frustrating to feel like you can't do much to fix it for them.

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#16 of 17 Old 09-01-2009, 10:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks Aricha. That's very helpful. I do think they feel comfortable talking to me, and we've recently started "family meetings" where we share things we're thinking and feeling and things that are bothering us. That has worked out very well and they both seem to feel comfortable opening up.
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#17 of 17 Old 09-01-2009, 04:32 PM
 
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What about a school counsellor?

Give it time, give them a place to express how they feel, but be very careful not to say or do anything that might make them feel like you want/need them to express only certain feelings. I'm sure it's hard for them to adjust to the changes at dad's, but there's also always a risk that they may unconsciously be trying to help you feel better or tell you what you want to hear by emphasizing the negative.

Because of this, I'd be careful about some of the "validating" talk someone else mentioned, like "It must be hard to feel like a guest in your own home." They may well take that in and interpret that as "mom told me I'm only a guest now in dad's home," or "mom needs to know I'm unhappy with daddy and like her home best," even if that's far from your intention.

Instead, I'd (1) keep your listening and responding open-ended, ask how things went, how they felt, maybe offer a sympathetic hug, and (2) also encourage them to find something positive in each day, since resilience is a great quality to develop. Definitely you shouldn't just gloss over it when they tell you they're having a hard time, but be sure you're giving them permission to find things they do enjoy, and for things to get better over time. I also like that you're encouraging them to discuss things themselves with their dad.
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