5 things no one tells you about marrying a widower

One type of step-family dynamic that we don’t seem to talk or hear enough about is being married to a widower. There is a notion I have heard from ladies when it comes to this subject matter. Many of them believe that its easier to marry a widower than it is to marry a single dad or a divorcee. The main reason being of course that there will be less stress because the ex in this case is no longer alive so there is no bio moms to battle with, no child custody or visitation issues, no child support and so on. However, the women who have been in this position, women who have dated and married widowers will tell you its a whole different ball game. They are clear that it’s not as easy as people will make it out to be. They confess that supporting a grieving partner and stepchildren is an uphill task and that they do face serious challenges in their new families.

What many stepmoms in this kind of situation forget is that grieving the loss of a loved one is a very personal journey. For some, it’s brief, they seem to move on pretty fast and get on with life as usual while for others, it’s long and onerous. Your partner will be grieving and so will his children. The kids may grieve differently from their parents and a lot of it will be influenced by the kind of relationship they had with the parent they lost. That is why our stepchildren may react very differently to us once we step in as new parents.

So what is it that couples in this kind of family need to know, look out for and handle graciously in order to provide everyone with a comfortable transition? From my work with stepmoms who are married to widowers the following five challenges are common and you will experience them should you be in a similar relationship.

A guilt ridden partner

When my dad passed on, I found myself thinking of what I could have done better or changed while he was still alive. I felt guilty. Guilty I didn’t call as much as I could have, guilty I didn’t take as much care of him while he was alive and more so when he was taken ill, guilty I didn’t visit him at the hospital in what would have been out last afternoon together. I should have been more patient with him, a little more aggressive with his doctors. I could go on and on. The list was endless. I kept feeling that there was always something more that I should have done. If you have ever lost someone dear to you then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Its not different in the case of a widower. They are bound to feel guilty about some things they did or did not do while their partner was alive. They may try to compensate for it in other ways either personally or through their children. For example, a dad may worship and adore his children more than ever to compensate for not being supportive of his wife or children, before her death. This may in turn affect parenting or discipline. He may not be able to say NO to his children when he needs to and this affects his relationship with his new wife.

Grieving stepchildren

Children tend to be a couple of steps behind the adults when they lose a parent. Not all the children will grieve the same way or learn to live with the loss at the same time. Some children may take this out on the newly introduced partner especially if the relationship is perceived to be too soon. Grieving stepchildren are not sure how to take the prospect of having a new parent figure. It feels like a betrayal to mom if they do and chances are they will feel that their dad is also betraying her by marrying you hence their rejection of you.

Living up to an angel

When someone dies, we tend to elevate them to some sort of sainthood. Our minds block out any bad they did and chooses to recall only the good. This means that when you come in as a stepmom the children will compare you to a perfect image of their mother and so will other members of the extended family especially those from moms side. So how on earth do you live up to an angel? How do you respond to constant comparison and always playing second best? All this adds on to the stress and strain of your relationship with them as well as your partner.

Extended family and friends that disapprove

You may endure a long list of opinions offered up by extended family and friends. These opinions may not always be positive. In fact some will be downright disrespectful and hurtful. You may be compared to the mom at every turn and no matter what you do never measure up. Some may make it very clear that they do not approve of you nor do they accept you into the family.

Living in a home that you didn’t choose 

There are cases where your partner or children or both are against the idea of moving to a new house. Their old home has more sentimental value now that “mom” is no more. Its not a surprise that they would want to hold on to it to uphold the memories and special moments shared in it. As the new wife you may find yourself with no option but to move in to this home that has memorabilia that serves as a continual reminder of your stepchildrens mom and this may present some challenges for you. Simple things such as redecorating, moving paintings or family pictures, packing and putting away moms old stuff may cause serious conflict between you and your partner and or the children.

All these are dynamics that you have to deal with when you marry a widower. The earlier you become aware of them and discuss them with your partner early in your relationship the better chance you have to avoid some of them or be well prepared to tackle them should they materialize. In next weeks blog we shall explore how you can overcome these challenges.

If you are dating or married to a widower what was your experience like? What challenges did you face, how did you overcome them and what advise would you give ladies who are in similar relationships? I would love to here from you. You can share by commenting directly on this article or write to me wendy@livinginstepafrica.com

 

 

 

 

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

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.

 

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!