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.

 

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.

 

Mother’s Day for Step-moms. Husbands, You Carry The Day

While the whole world celebrates Mothers Day this year, millions of mothers receive calls, messages and gifts from their children wishing them a Happy mothers day. Thanking them for all the care and love they have received from them since they set foot into this world. At the same time, millions of stepmothers in the world wonder whether they will receive a call, a message or a gift to thank them for the care and love they have given even though they do not hold the title ‘mom’. Those whose stepchildren appreciate and embrace them and whose spouses have seen and appreciated their work are lucky to get some form of appreciation. Others are not so lucky.

If there is a day of the year that can trigger either happiness or sadness for a step-mom it’s Mothers Day. One of the reasons why this day has such extreme emotions is because many step-moms feel like they do all the work a parent does physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. They may have changed the diapers, done the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptism, they may have bailed out their children over and over again but they don’t get to enjoy the pleasures associated with being a mom. They do all the work but since they don’t have the title, its easily overlooked, forgotten and unappreciated so if you are wondering why your spouse is in a dull mood today, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.

Many of the step-moms I have spoken to concerning this particular holiday have made it clear that Mothers Day is not about the gifts or the flowers but its about wanting to feel like what they do matters. That it counts for something and that its appreciated and not just on one day but everyday of the year.

Whereas you cannot force the children to do something special for your wife on Mother’s Day, as the spouse you can show your appreciation for what she does. The truth is, for many stepmoms, the only person who is there to celebrate them is their husband. The kids will most likely spend Mother’s Day with their bio mum and rightfully so. Therefore husbands, celebrating your spouse today and every other day of the year often falls on your shoulders.  She loved you and your children enough to choose and accept one of the most challenging and thankless jobs in the world. Acknowledge her work and thank her for it. Give her words of encouragement when no one else remembers how much effort it takes to be a step-parent.

To all mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers and all women who give care to children in any capacity.  Living In Step Africa acknowledges, honors and appreciates you today and wishes you a Happy Mothers Day!

From Single to Married with Kids… Understanding your not so enthusiastic stepchildren

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. The new couple 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 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. 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.

Here are some things to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. This 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 for example, if you try to hug them and they pull away, then that’s a sign that you are not there yet so avoid it. If you tell them “I love you” and they are silent again know that your relationship with them has not got to that level yet. When they are comfortable with it they will let you know, through their actions.

Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do.

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. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this. 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.

I would love to hear from you, your experience, what you would love to see me write about, questions and comments. Write to me wendy@livinginstepafrica.com

Have a great week!

 

Meet your ex-in-law: Part 2 Dealing with the challenges

In my last blog post we discussed the new member of your step-family, your ex-in-law. We saw how he/she is a big part of your family whether you like it or not and got into the most common issues and sources of conflict in your family due to this dynamic. If you missed it you can check it out HERE.

Today we will go through how you deal with these challenges, avoid unnecessary conflict and confidently deal with the ones that do materialize

Loyalty Declaration

Your partner needs to communicate your presence and relationship to both his ex and the children. He/she needs to let them know they have a new partner (the step-mom or step-dad) who is now going to be a member of the family. This should be done early enough during dating when the couple determines the permanency of their relationship. This gives everyone ample time to adjust the change slowly and at their own pace in all aspects of step-family life like the emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, legal changes involved. It also goes a long long in giving the step-mom/step-dad that first credibility before they form their own relationships with the existing family

No Threat Message

This is probably the single most effective way to avoid unnecessary conflict. The no threat message says to the biological parent that you realize you are not their children’s biological parent and neither are you trying to replace them. The earlier this is communicated verbally, in writing and with actions the better for all family members. This is especially true for the biological parent and their children.  For the children this will give them the freedom to love everyone without feeling like they are betraying their biological parent. Small gestures can go a long way to communicating this to children. For example, letting the children make phone calls to their parents, freedom to visit their parents, not badmouthing their parents in their presence

You are not moms/dads replacement

Its important to realize that you are not the replacement for the children’s mom or dad. The role of the step-parent is usually very ambiguous and confusing if one is not well educated on the step-family dynamics. Very many fall into the trap of staging a hostile take over forcing everyone to recognize and respect their position and authority. This approach will always backfire. Give yourself time to bond with the children and slowly you will earn their respect and they will look up to you as an authority. During this time your partner should take the lead role in the parenting aspects. Its also important that they discuss with the children minimum standards of respect for you the step-parent. The love will take time to form and patience is key

Couple Strength

This is extremely important for any step-family. The dynamics of this family presents a lot of challenges and if the couple is unable to present a united front, the challenges can escalated to levels that increase the stress and strain in the marriage. Discuss issues respectfully with each another and agree on resolution with each partner working on their contribution. Talk about the ex and the challenges you are struggling with and together with your partner agree on the best approach to overcome them for a stronger family. This also applies to any other challenges that will come your way

Be open to learning

Finally the secret to success of step-families is getting smart about step-family life. Getting smart means learning all you can about step-family dynamics, how step-families function, operate best, and why they have the unique challenges that they do. This will help you make informed decisions not just based on your emotions/feelings. Adopt the attitude of a learner.

Have a great week!

6 Resolutions for your blended family this year

It’s that time of year again for resolutions. The new year always comes with big bold declarations of personal achievements for physical well being, career growth and development, family and spiritual life. We are all our boldest and energetic during the new year. Determined to right the wrongs of our past. New year resolutions are however a lot like children, they are extremely easy and fun to make but maintenance is difficult and you really have to put in a lot of hard work, time and sacrifice.

Well for those in blended families who vow to make this year a little less stressful here are some 5 resolutions you might want to consider and work towards this year.

1. Set a couples date night

You might wonder what the hell a couples date night has to do with a successful blended family life. Well the answer is “Everything” Couple strength is everything when you want less stress in the step family situation. The couple are the center of the family and through them the children will draw their virtues or vices. If you are not a team, the family walls will easily crack and cave in on you if neglect the warning signs. The children also pick up on this very fast and can even play you against each other.

It’s important therefore to maintain your marriage outside of your kids by spending quality time together purely for relaxation and enjoyment. Try and not make the children your primary discussion. When the two of you are in sync  and working together as a team the rest follow under your guidance.

2. Strive for an effective co-parenting relationship

There are no ex parents, only ex-spouses. Its extremely important to have an effective co-parenting plan for the children. Your children need you to parent them TOGETHER. They need your guidance,discipline and leadership throughout their lives so do not deny them this right. Work out a co-parenting structure with your ex for the sake of the children and for a solid foundation should you want to make your current or future blended family work.

That way they get to spend time with both parents and share in the love of both and more importantly receive the necessary discipline and guidance throughout their lives. It also gives a good foundation for the step parent since he/she will not be viewed as a threat to the relationship with either parent.

3. Exercise patience

Rome was not built in a day and neither are step-families. Research has shown the average step-family takes about 7 years to finally bond, gel and have a well structured family therefore you need to make time your friend. When two different families come together everyone’s world changes. You bring to the table two different sets of history, structure, values, norms, cultures, religions, habits, virtues, vices etc its therefore expected that you will take time to find a good balance for this new family. It eventually gets better but the challenge is to take one day at a time. Be patient

4. Set apart some quality family time

Spend some time as a family and do something fun that everyone can be involved in, go a step further and make it into some form of family tradition so you start creating your own history as a blended family. Do not be too aggressive if you are in the early stages of your step situation. Spend time together with the step parent but also let the bio parent spend time alone with his or her children without the step parent there. This reassures them that the new relationship doesn’t  “steal” their dad or mum away. It also gives the step parent a better chance at forming their own relationship with the stepchildren since they do not view them as a threat.

5. Cut yourself some slack

Step parents tend to be very hard on themselves, trying so hard to create this perfect family. The truth is there is no such thing a perfect family. Every family has its own ups, downs and fair share of skeletons in their closet. The step family is no different even though the challenges differ from those of a biological family. There will be good days and there will be days you will want to pull your hair out. Parents and kids alike are bound to make mistakes since nobody is perfect. Pick your battles very wisely including those you have with yourself. Cherish the good times and learn from the bad and one day they will all be but memories you can smile about and say “It was all worth it”

6. Learn All You Can About Step-family Life

Finally the secret to success of step-families is getting smart about step-family life. Getting smart means learning all you can about step-family dynamics, how step-families function, operate best, and why they have the unique challenges that they do. This will help you make informed decisions not just based on your emotions/feelings. Adopt the attitude of a learner.

Happy new year to you and your family!