Using the 5 Love languages to connect with your step-children

The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman was written in 1995 and has become more popular among couples globally, selling over 13 million copies. The book sparked a new way of thinking about how we love and how we like to receive love. It clearly explained not only how to say “I love you” but also how we can hear it clearly by teaching people how to express love in their spouses language.

According to Dr. Chapman, there are five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. To read them in detail , get the book here.

In this post, I will be summarizing the five love languages and how understanding your stepchildren’s love language can help you start and form a long lasting connection with them.

Words of affirmation

Actions speak louder than words right? Well, while this is true, the words mean just as much as the actions. Positive affirmations are just as important for children’s emotional and mental well being as is their nutrition, sleep and exercise. What you put into your child is what you’re going to get out of your child. If they only hear negative comments about themselves or their parents, they will actually begin to display more and more of those negative traits. 

When they’re young, children derive their own identity from their parents. That is why they blame themselves when mom and dad divorce/separate. This is one of the biggest unfavorable situations that children can face in their lives. If they feel bad about the situation, it may cause them to become more negatively motivated will feelings of guilt, sadness, anger and frustration. Your words of affirmation give them the ability to focus on the positive things and overcoming the situation. It’s therefore important that you become their biggest fan.

Photo credit : Nicholas Githiri

As a biological parent it is important to always reassure them of your love despite the break up with their other parent. A good place for step parents to start is to spend quality time together with their stepchildren, taking a keen interest in their activities as this reveals what the child is doing well and presents you with an opportunity for you to tell them just how great they are doing for example, when they bring home good test scores, an act of kindness to others, their outfit, a great game on the football pitch, a great performance at the school play or helping around the house.

Quality Time

This is can be anything from a family vacation, Sunday afternoon lunches after church, dinners, watching movies, running errands like shopping together, going for a run or a bike ride, etc. with your step-children. These activities done together help the kids feel secure because their parents are close to them. They feel insecure when plans are cancelled or if they perceive that their parent would rather be alone or with others and not them.

Photo Credit : Agung Pandit Wiguna

As a stepparent you have to find the balance here. If you are just starting out, this may look like letting the kids spend quality time with their biological parents without you in the picture. Initially they perceive a step parent especially stepmoms as competition. As your relationship grows you will graduate to spending time with the kids with your partner to doing some activities with the kids alone.

Find fun age appropriate activities that you can do together. For example I used to play X-box games with my step children. I would have each pick a game they love and we’d play it together. Other activities can include making a special meal, puzzles, picnics, outdoor games. If they can teach you something new even better. Make sure that you give your full and undivided attention during this time.

Giving Gifts

This love language is the reason why we all love it when we get gifts from people we love especially on special occasions like our birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers day, Fathers day etc. The gift can be anything, what matters is that it is given from the heart. You don’t need to spend a lot—or even any money at all, when it comes to getting gifts. Make or give
thoughtful gifts specific to the child interests. For example, if the child is a reader you can buy them a book on their birthday, or have a project with their sibling to create some cool bookmarks for them.

Photo Credit : Pixabay

The golden rule to apply here is that if the gifts are not for a specific occasion like a birthday make sure you get a gift for all the kids, biological and step. That way there is no room for any of them to feel like some kids are being favored over others.

Physical Touch

Physical affection towards our children is highly promoted and encouraged, both for bonding and for the promotion of their development and well being.  Children need regular touch in order to thrive. Hugs, hand-holding, cuddling, kisses, high fives and even a warm smile mean everything to them. Withholding this from them can make them feel like they are being rejected.

Photo Credit: Nappy

Remember that this again goes back to how comfortable you and your stepchildren are. This will guide you as to what you can or cannot do. Let them guide you. If you are just starting out, you may suggest activities that require close physical proximity like a board game, reading a book, sharing a blanket as you watch TV these will help you as you work your way up to those hugs and kisses

Acts of Service

This is basically love in action. Actions that go above and beyond to help your step children feel your love towards them. Initially this is all you will have in your bag of tricks. They will be constantly watching you to find out what you’re about and they can pick up when you’re love is not genuine. Acts of service may include activities like driving the kids where they need to go without being visibly stressed about it or complaining, especially if their biological parents are unable to do it for whatever reason, helping them with their homework, picking out gifts for the biological parents etc Basically anything that they ask for your help with or that their parent requires help with.

The concept of the 5 love languages have the power to improve any relationship in your life. What is important is that you seek to understand yourself first, understand your loved ones and make a consistent effort on the choice you made to love them.

Why you are not getting along well with your stepchildren

Having a great relationship with my stepkids is something I thank God for everyday. It’s a blessing that I do not take for granted. People who have had the opportunity to meet my children and I are shocked at the great relationship we have. My own husband is amazed at just how well we get along. What no one realizes is that it did not happen overnight, neither was it handed down to me on a silver platter. There was a lot hard work behind the scenes, a lot of sacrifices, deliberate choices I made, disappointments and tears and lots of God’s grace. Despite it all, I stuck with it even when sometimes every inch of my body wanted to run away. I pressed on through my self doubt and every single setback that came my way. Giving up was always an option, but it was never my choice. I eventually found my freedom in that which I was not, their mother.

Children are at the very center of any new blended family. They tend to get forgotten because the couple is so in love, optimistic and ready to start the new life with their new partner. It’s important to always remember that all step-families are born out of loss. Your partner lost a husband/wife and the children have lost either mom and dad through separation, divorce or death. It is difficult for the children to deal with this especially since all children have an innate need to have their parents together regardless of their age. The truth is children are usually many steps behind when it comes to dealing with the loss of one or both parents and therefore it takes a lot of time to adjust to having a new parent; the step-mom or step-dad in their life.

Not all children adjust at the same time. It’s not surprising to find that one child warms up to the step-parent faster than his/her siblings. In my case, my son took a lot more time to adjust and accept me compared to his little sister. Other factors that affect this period of adjustment and new family formation include the ages, stages and sex of the children. Its key to always remember that all children need loving and trusting relationships and it is up to biological parents to reassure them of this through words but most importantly through their actions as well.

Not all kids will warm up to you at the same time

Here is what to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. It will help you understand your child and their behavior toward the stepparent enabling both of you to respond and react in a manner that will foster good relationships for everyone.

What to expect by gender:

Girls will often be uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from a stepfather. Therefore do not take offence as a stepparent. It’s not a rejection of you as a person. As the mother do not push your child to hug or make other physical gestures that they are uncomfortable with. With time they may come around to doing it but it’s also possible that they never do. Do not take it personally.

Both girls and boys prefer verbal affection such as compliments to physical affection like hugs and kisses. Try and stick to this. The children will generally guide you so go with their pace. When I first got to know my stepchildren I made the mistake of telling my daughter “I love you” after a telephone conversation. There was dead silence on her part. That is when I realized that although our relationship had grown, she was not yet ready for that so i refrained from saying it ever again. One day though during our usual bedtime rituals she hugged her dad and myself and said “I love you”, naturally I assumed that was for the dad so I remained silent as he responded. To my shock, she stood there and said “Wendy, I said I love you” and waited for me to respond. Moral of the story? Let the children set the pace for the relationship, all you have to do is follow their cues.

Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do. It may take stepmothers a longer time to be accepted simply because its a lot harder for children to accept another mother figure.

What to expect by age

Children Under 10:

At this age children are usually very open and tend to be more accepting of new adults. Usually easier to for a stepparent to form a relationship with. They may also adjust more easily to the new family setting because they usually have a strong desire for a complete family. At the same time they are prone to competing for their parents love, affection and attention.  A stepparent may feel like they are in some form of competition as they too are seeking the attention of their partner. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this love and affection. This works to your advantage since the children slowly stop viewing you as the threat, the person who is stealing mummy or daddy.

Being younger of course means that the have more every day needs and therefore will require attention of the biological parent.

Kids between 10 and 14 years:

Children in this age group have the most difficulty adjusting to step-family. This is because they already have a strong relationship with their biological parents. They also had a great deal of family history before the parents split. This means that they require more time to get over the loss and additional time to bond before they can start accepting step-parent and getting in line with the new family norms. They also take longer to adjust to the stepparent being a disciplinarian so slow down on this one, let their mum and dad take the lead on this.

At this age children will not openly demonstrate feelings yet they will also be the more sensitive ones compared to younger children. They need more love, support, and attention than younger kids so it’s up to dad and mom to constantly reassure them of their unwavering love and support despite the new family arrangements.

As a stepparent be patient, and don’t push them. Slowly work on forming and building a relationship with them.

Teens

They are just discovering themselves and usually slowly move away from family life. Their involvement becomes less and less as they try to form their own identity. It tends to be more difficult to form a relationship with them as a step-parent so please be patient. Try to find things you have in common that you can do together. They also need to know and feel loved, they need to be secure even though they will not openly express it. Reassure them as you would younger children

Adult children

Contrary to popular belief, they do not understand the new family arrangements and share the same issues as younger children.  They feel betrayed by a parent’s decision to remarry, they too desire to have their parents together. If they are in the same age bracket it makes it even harder to accept the stepparent. They may hate seeing displays of affection between their bio parent and the stepparent. Pressure from the bio parent to accept their new love is also difficult to cope with.

Having been in the family for so long, letting go of the family history is extremely difficult. Since they have moved out of the nest, with their own careers and maybe even their own family life makes it difficult for the stepparent to establish a relationship since there is no day-to-day interaction. Other factors that come into play are inheritance.

The best thing to do is to give them time as well to adjust the new situations. Being adults also means that they have the capability to step up and proactively work on establishing a relationship with a stepparent. The biological parent should explain their actions, why they love and need their partner and request their child to understand and respect their decision. After all they are human too. And just like all human beings they need a companion, love and happiness.

I hope this has helped you gain some insight as why children may act a certain way when a stepparent comes into the picture and how you can respond and act or help your partner and children reduce the friction during the transition.

If are already a stepmom or are dating someone with children from a previous relationship and you would like to learn more about what to expect when it comes to raising stepfamilies download a free copy of my ebook “The Truth About Stepfamilies” HERE

LISA celebrates dads: Alex Warinda

Every week this lovely month of June we will do something that is not done often enough. We will be celebrating dads. We will feature a dad, son or daughter in order to appreciate the crucial role that dads play and the impact and influence they have on their families. Today we applaud the incredible Alex Warinda, a single dad who raised four amazing young women; Nina, Rina, Emily and Leila. These four ladies give a sneak peak of how he managed to do it and what his love and sacrifice means to them.

 

Alex Warinda

  1. Describe your relationship with your father.

Apart from being our dad he is our best friend, a confidant, a brother we never had, and above all our role model. He is our ideal man, we trust him with our lives, he taught us everything from cleaning, cooking delicious meals to sewing our hems he’s the coolest dad ever. He is the only man who makes us believe there are few genuine good men in this world.

  1. How much time did your father spend with you?

All throughout our childhood dad spent each day with us. He would mostly leave work early and we would find he had prepared us evening tea with njugus, started working on our dinner, and helped us with our homework’s. Our dad has always been a full time dad to us he is the one who woke up first very early in the morning to prepare us for school, ensured we had breakfast and packed our lunch all this time our mum was still in bed catching her beauty sleep.

  1. How often did your father tell you that he loved you?

Each day since we can remember to date our dad calls us daily every evening individually since we are all grown up now and no longer staying with him. From the first born to our last born and to his grandson without fail. He is usually just checking up to see how our day was any challenges if any and to wish us a good night. To us that’s the greatest way of saying I love and care for you so much.

 

Nana and her son

  1. What did your father teach you about life?

Our dad has taught us patience. That nothing good comes easy and the importance of allowing God’s timing in our lives. To always strive to get the best of anything our hearts desire. To accept that not everyone will view life and issues from our perspectives and therefore learn to accept it and love them all the same. Our dad has taught us the value of forgiveness, of letting go the bitterness and pain that it’s not because the offender deserves it but we do so for our own peace and healing

  1. What did your father teach you about love and relationships?

That you will never please everyone in this life, that you will be heartbroken and betrayed but still give your best. Those relationships are not a bed of roses. Communication and appreciation is the key. He also taught us by example that you need to know when to let go before a relationship kills you.

  1. What did your father do that made you happy?

We are so proud that our father during his lowest time in life became a real man and stuck with us when all hell had broken loose after his relationship with our mum was going to the dogs. He didn’t care what people said or thought of him only what we his children thought of him. He held on tight to us and never let go. This we hold dearly. He is currently building us a very beautiful lovely home which is in the final stages.

  1. What did your father do that made you sad?

When he said tumempikia ugali mbichi  and that the meat had too much spice. We were very furious at the time since we had taken our time to fix him a good meal (Laughing out loud). Also how much he struggled when he would cycle miles just to come see us when he and mum were separated before they divorced, it was the most painful sight ever of our dad.

  1. What is your fondest memory of your father?

(Laughs) When he used to have afro hair and we would plait him, he used to have a motorbike and he would carry us around and every Friday. He still roasts meat for us to date. He also enjoys music and dancing. Every evening he would play some music and ask us to dance and reward the best dancer.

 

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Rina, Leila, Rina and her son

  1. Describe how you are like your father.

Patient, have a big heart, give our best in any situation. We like good living hence we give ourselves the best we can  and live in the moment, to the fullest.  Tunajiachilia vi deadly (Laughs)

  1. What do you wish you could tell your father?

That we, together with his grandson are super proud of him and we shall forever love him. That we value and appreciate him. Never in a million years would we wish anything different from what we have. We wouldn’t choose any other father and he is the greatest blessing in our lives. We are the women we are today because of how he molded us and brought us up. He is tough when he needs to, alituchapa sana tukiwa watoi yet so sweet when things were ok. We are the Warinda daughters!

BEST FATHERS DAY EXPERIENCE/MEMORY

Ever since our mum left us we ensured that every Valentine’s Day we took our dad out for valentines’ dinner bought him a cake, card and his favorite drink. We shared and laughed our pain away……

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Emily

LISA celebrates dads: Moses Likhanga through the eyes of a true daddy’s girl

Every week this lovely month of June we will do something that is not done often enough. We will be celebrating dads. We will feature a dad, son or daughter in order to appreciate the crucial role that dads play and the impact and influence they have on their families. Today we applaud the amazing Moses Likhanga whom we get know through the eyes of a real daddy’s girl, Vivienne Ayuma Likhanga. Vivienne is a law and administration professional and a proud mother of a 10 month old daughter. When I inquired about her age in all she could say is “I am an adult… Hehehe!… Twenty Something. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it (smiles).

Vivienne (right) with her dad

 

  1. Describe your relationship with your father.

He was my best friend. Ever since I could remember the two of us were like two peas in a pod. My parents having divorced when I was just 5 years old, my dad who became sole caregiver – took the mom and dad role greatly in his stride and he was the best single dad in the whole world. There were several days of instant soup and bread or ugali and milk for dinner but I will forever be grateful to him for how hard he tried to be everything to us before he remarried. Very few men can step up like this. I owe much of who I am today to him, if only he could see me now, he’d be proud of the woman that I’ve become.

  1. How much time did your father spend with you?

He tried his best to spend as much time with me as I was growing up. When I was little, after school in the afternoons I would go do my homework in his office then we’d proceed home afterwards in the evening when he was done. After he started working outside the country, it was a little difficult to spend so much time together but we would hang out all the time every time he got a break. We also had a letter writing tradition when I went to boarding school. He wrote to me a letter every two weeks telling me everything about where he was travelling to, the people he met and his work and of course reminding me to be a good girl and to work hard. I still have those letters. I read them whenever I miss him.

  1. How often did your father tell you that he loved you?

Every time we’d meet. He’d hug me good bye at times giving me a forehead kiss and tell me he loved me. He’d also occasionally do it on phone calls.

  1. What did your father teach you about life?

My dad taught me many things about life from how to always look people in the eye when I spoke, how to ride a bike, how to tie my shoe laces and tie; to how to multiply three digit numbers by other three digit numbers when I was just six years old. I went on to learn how to multiply numbers in school but I still did it the way he taught me; from left to right. I loved how he taught me the value and importance of hard work and a good education. If I have any success in my life it is because I am able to understand thoroughly and well what I read and I owe this specialty first to him. I appreciate him so much, for being in my life. He did all he could to give my siblings and I the best education he could afford. He worked almost 7 days a week from 5 am to 8 pm or even later, without complaining, all day standing up and never lost his joy of life and the humor.

The most important thing, he taught me was to never give up and most importantly never to panic when things go wrong. There’s always a way out but first you have to be calm to get everything in the right perspective. Being a high achiever he naturally made me always want to win and therefore I was a sore loser. But he always used to tell me: “Failure is good for you. So, accept your defeats, be aware of your mistakes and keep going. Failure sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.”

  1. What did your father teach you about love and relationships?

To love unreservedly. However he also taught me to not be a push over and to always know when to walk away from a relationship that no longer serves me. My dad’s life screamed “I love you” without saying the words. He made so many sacrifices. Watching his life taught me the greatest lesson on love: Actions speak louder than words. What we do is louder than what we say.

  1. What did your father do that made you happy?

Everything. He loved me unconditionally and was unafraid to show it. He made so many sacrifices at times personal ones just to make sure we were happy and OK. He was always so proud of me whether or not I deserved it. The greatest gift he gave me was believing in me.

  1. What did your father do that made you sad?

He got sick and there was nothing I could do to make him better. Then he died. Though I know death is inevitable and his suffering finally ended, it still broke my heart. It felt like I lost a part of me I could never replace. He was the only one besides God that I can honestly say I could always count on 24-7-365.

  1. What is your fondest memory of your father?

Listening to his heartbeat every night he held me close as he read me my bed time stories. It was the most calming moment growing up. Feeling his strong arms around me and hearing his big heart pounding away. I felt so invincible and protected.  Sometimes when I close my eyes and go back to those moments, I could almost still remember his scent and voice. It still is one of my best memories of him whenever I miss him. I also remember his love for music.. Most times you’d find him whistling or singing along to his favorite artists. It was hilarious catching him at times miming the words to our favorite artists too. One day I caught him singing along to Tupac’s “do for love” another day while we were stuck in traffic, he started singing Harry Belafonte’s, Banana Boat Song: “Day-O, Day, me say day, me say day, me say day, Me say day, me say day-o, Daylight come and me wan’ go home!” He could be so funny! There are songs I can’t listen to without thinking of him.

  1. Describe how you are like your father?

This is such a hard question. The people who knew him say that I laugh like him. Heartily.  I think I’ve got his cheeks and facial structure. I think I also took my easy going nature towards life from him as he was a free spirit. My dad was so strong, patient and kind to everybody no matter their position in life. He was the most generous, warm hearted of men you could ever meet, but at the same time, very stern when he meant business. This lesson bleeds into everything I do. Being humble and generous of heart to everybody I meet and being strong especially inside.

  1. What do you wish you could tell your father?

Oh how I wish I could resurrect him and tell him how much I love him! I would hug his neck and hold on for dear life trying to make up for all the years that I missed out on with him because I was too caught up with life. If I had one last moment I’d tell him that even though he’s gone there’s never a day that passes without me thinking about him. In everything I do I still wonder whether or not he’d be proud. I love you, dad. Thank you for everything.

BEST FATHERS DAY EXPERIENCE/MEMORY

Having lunch with him as he enjoyed his favorite scotch. He told me the first day he held me in his arms my eyes screamed at him for him to love me. And he could never stop. He told me no matter how old I am and I will always be daddy’s little girl.

 

LISA celebrates dads: Andrew ‘Keeplah’ Byama

Every week this lovely month of June we will do something that is not done often enough. We will be celebrating dads. We will feature a dad, son or daughter in order to appreciate the crucial role that dads play and the impact and influence they have on their families. Today we give it up for Andrew ‘Keeplah’ Byama, a 38 year old Organizational Learning & Development Consultant & Trainer at Training Connections and father to a 9 year old daughter and 5 year old boy.

Keeplah and his whys

1. How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be a father?

I was absolutely scared. More so because the only questions in my head were “what will the baby eat “? our salaries back then were quite small. “Will her Dad kill me” (we were still dating) and many other risk management questions.

2. Were you present for the birth of your child?

For both of them. Adrenalin is not in bungee jumping or kayaking my friends.

3. How did you feel at the birth and at the first sight of your children?

I actually had not prepared myself for the feelings that washed me over for that day. I was so busy focusing on the mother’s well-being  and the twenty two hours of labor journey, that I never prepared myself for the actual moment of seeing my daughter. She was born silent as she had been stressed so much due to the prolonged labor. As a result she was tangled in umbilical cord. She was slightly blue and had tubes to help her breathe, but that first sight on that May afternoon, made me realize my ‘why’. She managed to breathe and held on to my finger 10 minutes after her birth and I fell in love.

4. What are your concerns as you bring up your children?

I am overwhelmed by what our children are exposed to through the numerous media sources. As parents we try our best to censor but what they pick up from schoolmates, estate friends and other sources is really giving parents a run for their money. I am also concerned about my children living their lives along their gifts and talents without having to conform to society or peer pressure. Being comfortable with who they are, to reach for the stars and live their larger-than-life dreams.

5. What do you feel your role is as a Dad?

I feel my role as a dad is just that – to be a role model. In my dealings with society, with men and with myself.

6. What do you like about being a Dad?

I like the attention I receive from my children. I might be having a tough day but coming home to have small people run towards you smiling and happy that you have come, hug you and ask you how your day was. That, I like. Also just seeing them grow into their gifts with our encouragement makes me very proud and encourages me to keep doing what I am doing.

7. What do you not like about being a Dad?

I do not like that there is no customized manual for bringing children up and this makes me infuriated especially when I lose my anger with my children. I wish there was a manual for what to do when shit hits the fan, but this also is part of the journey.

8. What do you wish for your child/children?

I wish for my children happiness, a life full of integrity, a life lived full of achievement and little regret and most importantly that they can learn to love humanity and leave the world a better place than they found it or than I taught them. I also wish that they will not fall into the trap of always of living their lives only to get to the end of it. That they realize that success is not the destination but the journey. To enjoy each day like it was their last, build as many bridges and smile often.

9. What do you teach your children about love and relationships?

I teach them that all men are born equal but different because of the various mountains that make us who we are. I teach them that we love all humans equally regardless of their mountains. I encourage them to try and  get along with their friends and peers but not to get bullied.

10. What do you teach your children about money?

First, I tell them that “I DO NOT HAVE IT”; most of the time anyway, it’s a parenting instinct and default answer. I have been making them work for their money by running extra chores above what they are expected to do. For example, helping me to wash the car. My daughter started selling loom band bracelets two school holidays ago to estate children but would end up buying candy for the whole estate with the money she made. This made me start teaching them about the essence of business, expenses, profit and loss.

Finally, once a month we have a Saturday evening family monopoly game and I can see them slowly gaining their dad’s hustling mentality.

BEST FATHERS DAY EXPERIENCE/MEMORY

It’s the same each year. They wait till I have gone to the shower, then position themselves on my bed. Their mother is the chief collaborator each year. They “surprise” me when I enter the room shouting Happy Fathers Day! I do not know what it is but every year it gets better and better.

This month LISA celebrates dads

Men are totally shafted when it comes to Father’s Day. I mean, think about it. Mother’s day starts getting hyped at least one month prior to the celebration. All the major malls are decorated with eye catching Mother’s day themes, shops have impressive displays of possible gifts, restaurants have all manner of fancy brunch and dinner offers, not forgetting the spa treatments, hair, makeup and clothes makeover offers all in honor of the beautiful women who birthed and/or raised us. It’s a colorful and pompous affair.

Compare that with Father’s Day. I still have not heard any hype around anything to do with Father’s Day which by the way is in another two weeks or so. Dads are lucky if they get a card, a mug, one of those ‘greatest dad in the world’ trophies or a nice bottle of whiskey. This month however L.I.S.A wants to change this and celebrate and honor the men that we love so much, our dads, our heroes. These men have made the conscious decision to be there physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually for their families. A mother’s job is not easy but neither is theirs and yet they do it well and more often than not, without complaining.

Every week this month, I will feature a dad, wife, son or daughter on the L.I.S.A blog giving you a glimpse into the influence and impact dads have in the family.

This June, let’s hear it for the MEN!
 

 

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.

 

Why the biological mother of your stepchildren hates you

So you meet your prince charming and accept him and his kids knowing very well that they are a package deal. You cant have one without the other. You go ahead and get married, you take care of his children and try your best to be a positive influence in their lives. You work so hard to create a cohesive, functional family unit and yet it seems that it doesn’t matter what you do, your husbands ex, the biological mother of your stepchildren doesn’t like you at all. You would think that it would be better for everyone especially the children if you agreed and were on the same team but that is far from the reality, she hates you and you have no idea why. Technically you have checked every item on the “how to to be a smart stepmom” list,  if anything she should be thanking you and appreciating you for all that you do in her absence.

Truth is, she may never be upfront as to why she just cant stand you but here are some common reasons why moms do not like stepmoms, read on and see which ones fit your unique situation.

She did not choose you

“I never wanted you here. You simply were never part of the plan. Growing up and dreaming of my family I never included you.   I didn’t want help from another woman to raise my child.  The plan was for my family to include me, daddy and our children, not you. ” These were the words of Candice Curry, the founder of ‘Women with Worth’ in a blog-post titled “An Open Letter to my daughters stepmom” which went viral.

She echoes the words of many biological moms who find themselves in a similar situation. They never once thought that another woman would be raising their children and that they would have absolutely no say in that matter at all. You came into her territory and her guard just automatically went up.

She has little influence on her ex

Before you came along, your partner was less likely to muddy the waters with her. She probably got away with a whole lot more than she does now that you are in the picture. You see, now your husband listens to you, considers your point of view, has probably made several changes to accommodate you in the family and consults with you on all family matters. This used to be her, now that they are no longer an item, her power has decreased so it is not surprising that she blames you for this change.

You remind her of her failure

Whether she is the one who wanted the divorce or not, seeing you happy with her ex can be a bitter pill to swallow. No one ever gets into a marriage with the intention to get divorced and every divorced parent regrets the effects it has on their children. Perhaps your partner learnt his lesson and is now a better husband to you than he was to her. In any case, her perception of your relationship with her ex may anger her, whether she blatantly takes it out on you or not.

She is scared her children will love you

Ideally this should not be a threat because of the blood bond she has with her children. They will forever love and remain loyal to her despite whatever choices she makes in life, good or bad.  In her world however you are a threat and see you get along so well or hear warm stories about you from the kids may fuel her fire.

You are there for her children when she is not

This is especially so if you are a full-time stepmom with permanent custody and the biological mother is the one who does the visitation. You are there for every single milestone that her children make in her absence and that pisses her off. This is where you have to be wise as a stepmom and be very careful not to interfere with any firsts if you can help it because you give her the ammunition to hate you more.

She sees her weaknesses in you

You may be younger than she is, have a more successful career than she does, be more educated, prettier the list can be endless. Even if you are not, everyone has their own insecurities and its common for people to compare themselves unfairly to others and this situation is not different. She could be doing exactly that. Comparing herself to you and if this makes her feel inferior in any way is bound to take it out on you.

Whether all this is true or not, there should be no excuse for disrespect and animosity between moms and stepmoms. As adults we need to display maturity, address our insecurities head on, tackle valid issues amicably, respect each others contribution to the family and be the best we can be for the children’s sake.

If you are a stepmom who has to deal with an extremely difficult ex, you may not have much  control over her behavior toward you but you have control over how you react. Keep your head up and take the high road, always maintaining your self respect and dignity.

 

 

 

 

7 tips for success in your role as a stepmom

If there is one thing that all the stepmoms i have worked with confess is that they do not want to become the proverbial “evil stepmother.” While their intentions are good from the beginning the challenges that they have to overcome on a daily basis may sometimes be too much to handle or the stepmom may find themselves ill equipped to handle the curve balls of blended family life. As a stepmom your actions can either enable the growth of healthy relationships within the family or hinder them.

Here are a few tips to help you prevent the evil stepmom stigma and instead foster healthy relationships in your own stepfamily.

1. Commit to the long haul

Many times stepmoms come into the picture with high expectations and hopes for the happy family only to find out that its a lot harder than they expected. It takes between 4-7 years according to research, for a members of a step-family for create that authentic intimacy of a family. So its important that you are patient and that you commit to the long haul, continuously striving for love and acceptance through all the challenges. It may feel like for every step forward you take 3 steps backwards but consistency with your love and actions will pay off in the long run.

2. Don’t take everything so personally

Stepmoms struggle with many insecurities, they are constantly comparing themselves and competing with the biological mother. Unfortunately this only causes more problems because they can never measure up to “mom” in the eyes of the children. Instead of focusing on who you are not, its important for you to focus on who you are and what it is that you bring to the table and constantly strive to improve on that. That way you are secure in yourself and nothing anyone says be it your stepchildren, their mother/father, extended family or other outsiders can bring you down.

3. Direct your efforts toward being a friend rather than a parent

The goal of any stepparent should always be to build a relationship with the children. Becoming a parent too soon generates anger and resentment from the children and this only jeopardizes your relationship with them. Leave that to the biological parents and focus on building your relations with the children, getting to know them a little better and allowing them to know you as well. Once the relationship is in place, parenting becomes a lot more acceptable by the children and much easier on you as well.

4. Make your marriage a priority

Parenting demands can consume much of you and your partners time and energy making it very easy for the marriage to take a back seat, yet marriage is the very foundation of any family and if it is strong the family will in turn be strong but if it is weak then the family crumbles. You and your partner need to spend time apart as a couple, back each other up when it comes to parenting and discipline and act as a unified front displaying a friendship that positively impacts  the children.

5. Encourage healthy co-parenting

Its important for every child to have a relationship with their mother and father whether they are together or not. Its therefore important for you to allow your spouse and his ex to co-parent the children with healthy boundaries in place of course. In the same way do stay out of any disputes between your spouse and their ex. Its crucial that the homes do not meddle in each others business, but critical to have the basic rules and schedules for the kids respected regardless of which home they are in.

6. Recognize and appreciate your stepmom role 

Your role as as stepmom is very important and you should not let anyone negate it. Sure, it is different from the one of the biological mom but that does not mean it is not as critical. Stepparents have the ability to remain objective and recognize unhealthy patterns in the children simply because they are not blinded by the unconditional love and blood bond that parents share with their children.  This is a huge advantage for step-families if only they recognize and embrace it.

7. Do not quit

The divorce rate among re-married couples is higher than that of first time marriages. This is due to the step-family dynamics that present unique challenges for the couple and every member of the family. The stepmom journey is a difficult one for sure but it is also worthwhile but only for those who stick with it to the very end. Therefore commit to the long run one day at a time.