Money questions you should ask before marrying a single parent

When I was doing my pre-marital counseling sessions there was one thing that really frustrated me, all the content, good as it was, made reference to the ideal first time couple. The virgin couple who would experience sex for the first time on their wedding night. The one that had no children from previous relationships, no exes constantly in your business and no extra set of relatives to put up with. The couple whose past remained exactly there, in the past. My hubby and I didn’t quite fit in this mold and I am pretty sure we were not the only ones. The advice we got was good for an ideal situation but we needed a little extra because some wheels were already in motion. We were a ready made family therefore the questions would be different and would require a different answer and approach all together.

Money is one of the biggest causes of friction and conflict in a marriage.  Anne Landers said “All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership”.

 

Discuss every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner

In order to have that healthy and constructive battle there are some specific aspects of marriage that every couple needs to discuss and address before they marry. Aspects such as the family values to be upheld, whether to have children or not and how many, dealing with in-laws, finances, spiritual life, couple sex and intimacy and many more. That is why we are encouraged to get pre-marital counselling in order to bring these areas to light and to give the couple an  opportunity to air their views of each matter and then together agree on what the family approach will be.

Couples with no children have the benefit of starting on a blank page and defining everything a fresh. They have no one else to consult but each other. They call the shots. For those who come into marriage with children from a previous relationship this is a much more complex and difficult discussion. The budget will include more items and considerations such as the children, the ex, already established lifestyles; making it an even more crucial discussion to have.

Discussing every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner will make your lives easier and help your marriage succeed. Here is a list of twelve questions that you should ask your spouse to get the conversation started and agree on the way forward for your family’s financial well being. During the discussion please adhere to the ‘no heat, no judgement’ rule. Do not go off on your partner for having a different opinion and don’t judge them either. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

‘no heat, no judgement’. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

  1. What are your current financial obligations?
  2. Are you financially supporting your children/ Are you receiving child support ? What is the agreement with the ex spouse? How much and how frequent are the payments? Will they increase or decrease in future? When will they end? What do we do when we don’t receive scheduled child support?
  3. Do you have any joint debts with your ex spouse? (loans, mortgages, businesses, credit cards etc) If yes, how do you plan to remove yourself from these joint debts?
  4. What expectations do you have for me to support your family?
  5. Do you have any financial commitments to your parents, siblings, or other family members?
  6. Do we both have active employment? How will we handle childcare given our work schedules?
  7. What will our individual financial responsibilities towards running the home be? rent,utilities,insurance, education
  8. How will we handle the holidays?
  9. How will we unify our finances? Are we comfortable with one bank account or will we have “yours,” “mine,” and “joint”?
  10. What do we want to teach our children about money? Will we give allowances and in what amount?
  11. How will we resolve differences in spending and saving practices?
  12. How will we handle investments, property titles/deeds, insurance, wills?

Remember that whatever plan you come up with will not be static but will evolve as the seasons of life and other factors come to play in your every day life, so set some time discuss this and adjust the plan as and when change presents itself.

 

Mother’s day advice for stepmoms who dread the day

I remember my first Mother’s day as a stepmom. ” Wendy”? My stepdaughter called. “You know its Mother’s day; would you please help me to pick out a gift for mum? You’re so good at picking out gifts”, she said.  My initial reaction was “of course, I would be thrilled to do it”. I actually thought it was quite nice that we had gotten to a place where she felt that she could come to me with a sensitive request like this one. I told my partner about her request so as soon as we were done with the Sunday church service we drove down to the mall. While we were going through the aisles searching for the perfect gift it dawned on me what I was doing. I went from zero to angry real quick. What in the world had possessed me to agree to this request? Why was I spending time picking up a gift for my stepchildren’s mother? I was pretty sure she wasn’t looking for one for me to thank me for being so good to her children so why was I the one being nice to her? I was visibly upset and disturbed and as the wheels in mind kept turning, my feet stopped moving, I no longer wanted to help but it was too late to back out. My partner noticed the sudden mood change and sought to find out what was wrong but it didn’t feel right to share my feelings smack in the middle of Nakumatt. Being the emotional person I was it would not have come out without being accompanied by tears so I gave the classic “nothing is wrong” answer. He must have quickly figured it out because he immediately took charge, picked a box of chocolates and off were to the check-out counter. That day was unbearable, not so much because of the experience of getting the mother of my children a gift but the realization that it did not  matter how good a maternal figure I was to the children, they never perceived me as a mother and expecting them to do so would only cause me disappointment. One of many turning points I have had in my journey.

 

Mother's day (1)

 

Mother’s day has got to be one of the most difficult holidays to deal with for stepmoms; especially the full time ones, the ones who have full custodial care of their stepchildren. The ones who do all the work a parent is supposed to physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. The ones, who have changed the diapers, helped with the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptisms and graduations. Those who have bailed out their stepchildren over and over again.  For the newbies, you have at one point hoped that being this mother figure, your stepchildren would see, acknowledge and appreciate you for what you do for them. However at some point you were forced to quickly snap back to reality and realize that they don’t see you as a mother at all. Or perhaps they do but they do not openly appreciate you for this on normal days let alone Mother’s day. This is why this day of the year can trigger either happiness or sadness. If you are man reading this and you wonder why your spouse is in a dull mood on Mother’s day, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.

I completely understand the roller-coaster stepmoms have to go through. On the one hand you are expected to have unconditional love for your partner’s kids and an ability to endure all things and sometimes even clean up messes you had no part in making in the first place. Yet, if you express normal feelings associated with the raising of children—like the frustration, disappointment and fatigue that come along with the job—you are viewed as selfish and evil. You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So how can you let yourself off the hook this Mother’s day; while at the same time making it easier for your stepchildren as well? For starters;

Set the right expectations.

Expecting your children to recognize you and shower you with gifts this Mother’s day is setting yourself up for major disappointment. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself or the children. Let the children do what they think is best. If it somehow involves you, then you are one of the lucky few. By all means enjoy it. If it doesn’t, do not take it personally. It’s not an attack on you or who you are.  Also do not try and sabotage or come in between any plans that they may have with their biological mothers. Whenever the children feel that their loyalty to their biological parent is threatened; either by your words or actions, they will resent you for it and this only increases the strain in your relationship. Children constantly battle loyalty conflicts where they feel that loving you and showing it openly directly translates to betraying their mother. Make it easy for them by removing yourself from the equation.

I have worked with some stepmoms who have no intention to replace the biological mother but their partner finds it difficult to accept this. They put pressure on the children to respond to the stepmom as they would their mother. During this time your partner may go to the extent of asking the children to acknowledge you or even buy you a card or some kind of token. While this is a noble intention it does more harm than good. Talk to your partner about this; let him know you are comfortable with the fact that the children do not view you as they do their biological mother. Chances are they never will. On the flip side, nothing prevents him from getting you a gift himself as a token of his appreciation for all your effort and sacrifice. So gents, if you feel your wife has been a great stepmom by all means show your appreciation for her on this day.

Work on developing thicker skin

Society has unrealistic expectations and sometimes extremely uninformed opinions about stepmothers and the role they play in the family especially in this country where step-families are an open secret. As a personal rule I don’t waste my time trying to explain stepmom life or justifying anything to anyone who has not walked in my shoes. Only stepmoms would truly understand your thoughts and feelings especially during this time. Try your best to let any rude or insensitive comments bounce off you. Seek out the support of other stepmothers who know exactly how you feel and who will not judge you for it.

Focus on the things you are grateful for

Consciously shift your focus to the positives rather than the negatives in your family life. I know all too well that it is not easy building the relationship with your stepchildren and that we are all in different stages of the journey. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the things that are not working. Dwelling on these things reflects negatively in your own personal mood as well how you relate with your partner and the children. Instead of marinating on these negative things, focus on what is good and working. Rejoice in every step that has been made in the right direction.

Whether this Mother’s day is a good or bad day, it is only one day in an entire year. Find something to be grateful for and let go of everything else. It is such a relief when you discover that you can be happy even if every aspect of your life is not all fine and dandy.

Spend the holiday with your mother

Instead of forcing on a celebration with your stepchildren, why not spend the time with your mother? Try to make it special for her. You will be surprised how great you will feel when you focus your energy on her instead of yourself. This works for a lot of other stepmothers who choose to spend the holiday with their mothers or with women for whom they care for deeply. Treat yourselves to a massage, brunch with friends or whatever it is that you two will enjoy. By doing so you are actually taking the pressure off yourself and taking control of your own happiness.

I hope this can help you and other stepmothers have a more enjoyable Mother’s Day.