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Blended Family Issues

puppymommo

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I know some of you on these forums have blended families and probably some of you have acquired adult children and are making it all work. I'd appreciate you sharing your wisdom.

This weekend I was supposed to be spending at Silverleaf's Fox River Resort in Illinois, with my stepdaughter, her husband and his two teenaged daughters in one unit and myself, DH and DD (17) in another. It is equidistant from both our homes so it seemed perfect. However, we had to cancel the plan because DSD found out she couldn't get the days off after all. DH, DD and I could have still gone, it's a nice resort and we enjoy it, but the main reason was to see DSD and her family.

I'll try to keep this brief. After the divorce, DH did not have any contact with his daughter at the ex's request. Child support was paid but no contact of any kind until she turned 21. On the outs with her mother, she decided to track her dad down and wrote to us. She came for a brief visit when DD was 5. A few months later she camed to live with us for awhile, got a job and started working on her GED. All went well for a few months. Then she left for a visit with her boyfriend (now her DH) and never came back. We heard little from them until about 2 years ago. They had their wedding here and we got to meet her DH and his 2 daughters. That was two years ago and we haven't seen them since.

Both families are busy with lots of teen activities, jobs, etc. And the ties are not that strong yet.

What is hard for me is that DSD has no contact now with her mom so I am "mom" to her. We are the only family she has. I care about her and her family but it feels strange to all of a sudden have a daughter in her thirties and a SIL only 10 years younger than I am.

DH will talk to them when they call but doesn't initiate any contact. DD is still hurt about being "abandoned" when she was in first grade.

So it falls on me to be the one who keeps it together. DSD gets hurt if we don't make contact or miss a birthday, etc.

I'm the one who organized (tried to organize) the MLK weekend get together that fell through.

Mostly I am here getting this off my chest, and hoping to hear from any others who struggle with relationships with adult stepchildren.

Thanks in advance
 

dumbydee

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I do not have adult stepkids but do have 3 stepkids. I have 3 of my own, 2 of which are 21 and 23 so my DH has adult stepkids. Speaking from my experience it is up to the birth parent to initiate that contact not the step parent. I don't think my DH would ever contact my boys on his own.

But then again this may be the difference in men and women. Women seem to get more involved in "family" type things such as trying to bring your SD and DH together. But ultimately it is up to the two of them to make an effort to have a relationship or not.

I don't know the particulars as to why your DH agreed to no contact with his daughter but I definitely can see why she would be hurt by this. I also feel that she probably needs and wants her dad to show some initiative in having a relationship with her.
 

nalismom

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My husband and I have been married 18 years...his daughter was 18 at the time and his son 10. Daughter's mother passed away in 2003 suddenly at age 54..daughter was 30. The next year she got married and has 2 children.

I have watched my husband turn himself into a pretzel for this girl since the day he and her mother separated. Any contact has to be initiated by my husband but then it's to a voicemail. She returns calls when she is good and ready ...usually 2-3 weeks later. He has never been able to have her just pick up the phone when he calls. The last time we saw the grand-kids was almost 3 years ago due to a fallingout with Daughter and SIL over a second home we owned together with her.

Basically my husband wanted out of his share of the home since we were not using it every year due to living 1800 miles away and other life interventions and the fact that we are now on fixed income and this economy is not helping. She and DH live 3 hours from the house and use it as their summer home and move in from June to September. They did not want to buy him out they instead said...."why don't you just give it to us...you would be much better grandparents if you did" This is just one example of their entitiled attitude. Appalled at this my husband continued to try to negotiate but calls were not returned except when convenient for them usually 3-4 weeks later...there was no mortgage on this home but it is lake property and worth a decent sum but half of it to purchase would not have broke their bank. The entitilement continued until we found an attorney to write up a 'petition to partition' which meant they could settle with us or we could sell it outright. They did not want to sell and so bought out my husband.

It's been a year and a half and my husband has continued to call and to write. She re-contacted him Thanksgiving 2010 and through the holidays but then contact pared down. We sent gifts to the children but one of those gifts was never given to the kids to this day - the excuse being they had too many other presents to open...the tree fell over and we didn't want to put them up (it was a set of trains).....we are keeping them as an incentive for potty-training and it goes on and on.

Most recently she said she would like her father to see the kids and to pick a place where we could meet halfway and she would come....we did...she said she couldn't come that far altho it was halfway. She then said that during her school vacation she was planning something else so what about a long weekend somewhere like DC...we said OK...two weeks later the long weekend was pared down to 1 day and she still was waffling. We decided that the expense of traveling for 1 day was too much for us given that she still did not seem committed.

My husband over the last three years has come to see what I have seen over the last 18 and he is becoming inoculated to her behavior in that it doesn't bring him down into a funk like it used to. For years I went out of my way for this girl but stepped back about 6 years ago. I continued to support my husband in his attempts to have a meaningful relationship with his daughter but things were just never enough for her and in the last three years he has come to see this on his own but only when I made thedecision to step back and not let her get to me because then it became about me and her.....now it is about my husband and her.

His son by the way is a totally different child and is grateful for anything you do for him or give him and always has been.

My advise would be to step back and let your husband navigate the particulars of this relationship because otherwise you become a player in their drama that was created long before you came onto the scene and all the unresolved emotions will get foisted onto you to carry for them.
 
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geekette

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Well, Puppy, it sounds to me like she got used to not having parents, to forging her own way. She may not believe she needs family. Except, sometimes it seems she knows she wants family. Maybe it's for her, maybe it's for her kids to have grandparents.

Her mother must be a piece of work. Do not put yourself into Mother Role unless she leans that way. It may only be occasional which you seem to know and accept. You do care, it's obvious. But there isn't much that you can do to help the situation. Keep reminding on cards, keep trying on get-togethers. But your husband needs to step up if there is to be a stronger relationship.

I can understand feelings from childhood lingering, and it seems that your dh is not as interested in "making it up to her" as maybe he could be. I hope she understands that it wasn't his choice to 'abandon' her. She needs to know that. It is never too late for The Truth. I'm sure it's odd and awkward for him as well. But if he never initiates contact, it perpetuates in her head that he doesn't really care.

She is an adult, she can understand whatever happened with her mother and father. But even I would not believe "I always cared, I thought about you all the time" if even now it doesn't seem true. She needs to really feel it, believe it, and I'm not sure she does.

Hang in there. Life is long. There is time to get closer. Just maybe not this week. It would be nice if your dh called her while you are vacationing, let them know that they are missed. So sorry you couldn't join us. Not as fun without you...

Good luck!
 

caribbeansun

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You've taken on too much of the burden. I have 3 adult step-kids and the heavy lifting falls to the birth parent and rightly so. There's enough to do in every day life without you having to be saddled with something that is rightly your DH's issue/duty. Having said that I know it's not possible to fully detach so perhaps try to reduce a small amount at a time.

So it falls on me to be the one who keeps it together. DSD gets hurt if we don't make contact or miss a birthday, etc.

I'm the one who organized (tried to organize) the MLK weekend get together that fell through.
 

laura1957

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I have 4 adult stepchildren. The oldest is living in another state with her husband, she is close to my husband and they talk fairly often on the phone. We have stayed with them when visiting and are always made to feel welcome.

2nd oldest lives very near us - has never been close to my husband and never initiates any contact, is hard to reach, make plans with.... sounds a lot like your situation - I am constantly asking my DH to CALL her and make plans to see the kids at least. When we do see her she if very standoffish - but she is that way with EVERYONE - She is never actually unfriendly, but she is completely different from her sisters and brother!! He is tired of trying, but in my mind he has not tried hard enough. I think for the grandkids sake he should not give up on her.
These oldest 2 are actually his stepdaughters, but he raised them since they were toddlers with no financial support or contact from their birth father. He considers them his, their children his grandkids.

His youngest 2 have lived with us on and off since we married, as have my own 2. His youngest and my oldest were in high school together when we married, all 6 of our kids have a friendly relationship although my 2 very rarely see his oldest 2. They are facebook "friends" and call each other sisters, and claim each other's children as their nieces/nephews..

I really cant blame your SD for feeling abandoned, and feel it is up to your husband to make more of an effort. But if he wont - I hope you continue to try:)
 

jlwquilter

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These types of family situations aren't limited to step families either. My MIL can't seem to motivate herself to have much to do with her son or her granddaughter. The other sons and grandkids get most of the attention. For years I've tried to make situations where they could all spend time together (with or without me - I am truly ok either way), but it all falls flat. Now DH isn't interested in even asking his mom to come along on stuff and DD is no longer excited to see Grandma.

So I am really trying harder to not do this type of planning/pushing. I still feel the urge, but now usually talk myself out of it or allow DH to talk me out of it. I think it's a crying shame it's the way it is but I guess if they are ok with it (I can't say happy because I don't really think they are happy) then so be it.

Everyone has issues :(
 

glypnirsgirl

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My heart goes out to you and to your stepdaughter.

The first thing that struck me in your post is that your husband, at his ex's request, did not have any contact with his daughter. Of course, she feels abandoned. She was abandoned. He stopped contacting her and that his ex-wife requested it does not make it better.

And now he doesn't initiate contact. So she still feels abandoned.

And now she doesn't have contact with her mother, either. And not a mystery as to why --- the woman must have been selfish and possessive in the extreme to ever have requested that your husband not see his daughter. She certainly wasn't considering her daughter's emotions when making that request.

Your DSD's whole family dynamic is messed up and she has no good role model for having a healthy relationship. She cannot be someone she does not know how to be. She cannot be a good daughter because she doesn't know how to be one. You are going to need to decide whether you are up to teaching her or whether you are just not capable of the effort.

My "bonus kids" and I get along better than they get along with their bio-parents. Their parents fought frequently when married and divorced when they were fairly young. My husband is relatively clueless when it comes to emotions - to the point that I consider him emotionally impaired. He did manage to visit with them lots. At one point, he was driving 30 miles to pick his son up from school and take him to his ex-wife's home just so that he could have that 10- 15 car ride with him. It is not a lack of caring, it is not having social skills (for both my husband and his kids).

Their mother is lazy and selfish. Although she has a master's degree, she has not held a full time job in 20+ years and is now mooching off of her daughter (my bonus daughter) --- and then she took money from her.

When Ian and I married, his kids not only did not know how to treat me, they didn't know how to treat their bio-parents, their extended family members and even other young people. My bonus daughter was the better of the two, but still was not great at making friends. To this day my bonus son has only one friend --- and he and his one friend only speak occasionally.

The big difference in their relationship with me and with their parents is that I talk with them. Really talk with them. My stepson actually comes and tells me what he is doing and I listen. When he wants to tell his dad something, Ian lets him know he is not interested and is disdainful of the things that interest him (anime. trading card games, some video games). (While I was typing this, John came in to show me how he was going to modify one of his trading card boxes to make it better. And we had a conversation about it. I asked him questions and suggested which of my tools he could use to accomplish it. About a month ago, my DSD called me because she was upset because she had broken up with her boyfriend. When her dad answered the phone, she told him that she wanted to talk to me, not him).

When Ian and I first married, his kids were not used to sitting down and eating as a family. They did not know that birthdays should be acknowledged on the birthday itself. They did not know that calls should be promptly returned, gifts should be acknowledged, etc. They were lacking social skills. And every thing that they did, I felt like was an insult.

It took awhile for me to realize they simply did not know any better. And then I took it upon myself to tell them what my expectations are. (Family commitments should be kept, during visits conversations should occur, everyone sits at the table together, etc.) When they did something thoughtless, I would tell them what I felt. (I feel ignored and taken for granted when we go to the effort to pay for a visit and then you spend all of your time playing videogames or on facebook) --- and I try to say it calmly and quickly enough that we can still have a pleasant visit. They take me seriously because they are certain that I love them.

What did you say to her when she cancelled? She may have thought that it was acceptable to do so. She may not have known that y'all were looking forward to seeing her and her family. She may not know that family commitments should not be made until you can be reasonably certain that the commitment can be kept (sometimes things just happen like accidents). I suspect that this is lack of knowledge on her part rather than intentionally hurting anyone.

I think that you need to decide what your goals are for your relationship and then you can share those goals with her to see if your goals for the family relationships are compatible. ("I would like for us to talk on the phone every two weeks or so and to be able to spend a long weekend or two together, twice a year and during that time, I would like for us to ..." and follow up with, "Does that work for you --- or did you have something else in mind? how would you like for us to spend time together?") --- that way each of you has a chance to talk about expectations and it will keep from inadvertantly hurting each other's feelings.

HTH

elaine
 

Jaybee

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After all these years, I continue to be amazed, and admiring of all the good, solid advice that members offer to one another. You guys and gals are something really special. Thank you! Jean
 

lintermans

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The Step and Blended Family Challenge

As a step and biological Mom, and the author of a book on stepfamilies which included not only my own experience but research with stepfamily authorities and other stepfamilies, I am aware, all to often, of the high rate of divorce among these families.

One reason is that there are no understood guidelines for these families. Society tends to apply the rules of first marriages, while ignoring the complexities of stepfamilies.

A little clarification: In stepfamilies the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended families, there are children from both co-parents, and virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss.

The Landmines

Three potential problem areas are: Financial burdens, Role ambiguity, and the Children’s Negative Feelings when they don’t want the new family to “work.”

Husbands sometimes feel caught between the often impossible demands of their former family and their present one. Some second wives also feel resentful about the amount of income that goes to the husband’s first wife and family.

Legally, the stepparent has no prescribed rights or duties, which may result in tension, compromise, and role ambiguity.

Another complication of role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other. In reality, this is often just not the case.

The third reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that a child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility, since children commonly harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

Stepmother Anxiety

Clinicians say that the role of stepmother is more difficult than that of stepfather, because stepmother families may more often be born of difficult custody battles and/or particularly troubled family relations. Society is also contradictory in expecting loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtimestories we are all familiar with).

Stepfather Anxiety

Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions, far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. A new husband might react to an “instant” family with feelings which range from admiration to fright to contempt.

The hidden agenda is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother or her children, or both, may have expectations about what he will do, but may not give him a clear picture of what those expectations are. The husband may also have a hidden agenda.

A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let the husband play father.

The key is for everyone to work together.

The husband, wife, their stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological parent can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

One Day at a Time

Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better -- a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

The best marriages are flexible marriages, but how can you be flexible if you do not know what everyone needs right now. And, this may change over time, so there must be room for that to happen as well.

In flexible marriages partners are freer to reveal the parts of their changing selves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later.

Spouses may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in a first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

Living Well

Since roughly one third of stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, and comfort that only healthy families provide. Consider the following for living your step/blended family life well:

You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop verbal skills: listen with empathy, effectively show your needs, and problem-solve together. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding.

Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results.

You must balance and co-manage all of these tasks well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people.

Know and take comfort in the fact that confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect, Llumina Press, 2011
 
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