Stepfamily strength

silverswordJuly 9, 2010

Parenting Magazine:

o Contrary to myth, stepfamilies have a high rate of success in raising healthy children. Eighty percent of the kids come out fine.

o These stepkids are resilient, and a movement to study their resilience--not just their problems--promises to help more kids succeed in any kind of family, traditional or otherwise.

o What trips stepkids up has little to do with stepfamilies per se. The biggest source of problems for kids in stepfamilies is parental conflict leftover from the first marriage.

o A detailed understanding of the specific problems stepfamilies encounter now exists, courtesy of longitudinal research--not studies that tap just the first six months of stepfamily adjustment.

o Stepfamilies turn out to be a gender trap--expectations about women's roles and responsibilities are at the root of many problems that develop in stepfamilies.

o After five years, stepfamilies are more stable than first-marriage families, because second marriages are happier than first marriages. Stepfamilies experience most of their troubles in the first two years.

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I highlighted the portion above because it was so true for me. We all bring baggage in to relationships, even if we've never married or had children, there is parental baggage, high school sweetheart baggage, guy who dumped us in college baggage... whatever. But the baggage that comes with divorce and children is even longer lasting.

I know personally I brought so much conflict into my second marriage from my first, for some reason I kept reacting to DH (mostly in regards to parenting issues with my DD) as if he were Ex and thankfully he was gentle and patient enough to remind me "those are old issues, it's not what's going on here, let's reevaluate this situation". It takes so long to re-set and while I believe that can be reduced by lengthening the time a person is single between marriages I don't think that's a cure-all.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 12:05PM
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Interesting information, Silver---thanks for sharing!

All very excellent points.

I feel like DH and I have been through a lot the last two years but are coming out stronger and on top. We are about to enter our third year of marriage and I would definitely agree that the first 18 months was the hardest! We had already lived together for two years prior to getting married but our first year of marriage was totally overshadowed by DH's custody stuff with BM. It was honesltly a nightmare, trickling down to SS in a really negative way.

Thankfully, BM is no longer drinking, SS is like a different child, we all enjoy the custody schedule, and DH and I are doing so much better.

I think we will be a-okay :)

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 3:33PM
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I think I posted something similar a few years ago... about parental conflict.

Unfortunately, the conflict does not even have to include interaction between the parents. When a parent refuses to talk to the other parent or have anything to do with them, they may THINK they are avoiding "conflict" but if the child knows (either from being told or sensing it) one parent dislikes the other (or both dislike each other) even if they are not actually 'fighting', the negative feelings of that unspoken conflict are conveyed to the child. That can be just as damaging & can affect how the child feels about themselves & both parents.

It's been my belief all along that children want one thing... to be loved. They want everyone to get along. They want peace. They want to have fun. They don't always understand why mommy or daddy left... why he/she doesn't see me... why mommy hates stepmom when stepmom is nice to me... Those are ADULT issues and it's usually when the adults have problems with each other (whether a step is included or not), that's when the kids get dragged into it & may feel responsible for what's happening, may learn to manipulate the situation, etc.

I am not suggesting that it's best to run from relationship to relationship... but sometimes when the parent takes all the time they need by lengthening the time between marriages, that also means the child has had THAT long to get used to having a single parent & the more resentful they may be at having a new stepparent enter. Just because the parent is ready to move on... doesn't mean the kids are. I thought it would be easier for me because I stayed single until my kids were in high school. Then I found out they didn't want to change things. On the other hand, SD was 5 when I met her. She welcomed me with open arms (though now I wonder if she was sincere) and we got along really well in the beginning. It wasn't until her mom started to really have a problem with me, that SD began to complain about me... BM moving away only made things worse because SD had gotten the message that "mom hates Ima" and then BM left SD with us.. with the "bad Ima" so SD has spent the last three years telling BM how "bad" I am so BM will 'rescue' her. I truly believe that if BM had conveyed to SD how great it was for her to have a SM that wants to do things with her, that wants to make her parties, that wants to do girl scouts, that wants to take her to karate, swim or dance... and tell her how lucky she is to have a "bonus mom", then SD would not be as miserable as she seems now. SD gets along well with her mom's BF ~ even calls him dad. The difference is that DH has not gotten jealous, has not gotten territorial, has not criticized BF, and basically is glad that SD gets along with him... wouldn't it be horrible if she dreaded being around him because dad would be upset?

Money & kids seem to be the biggest issues in second marriages (probably first ones too) and nothing like a custody battle to stress finances & emotions.. and most happen in the first few years of marriage, which is probably why the first two years are the toughest.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 4:28PM
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I'd like to see a site and read this myself.

btw, my marriage lasted 25 years. When X and STBSM lasts that long, I believe some of this. When I married X, both of us had finished college, etc.

I think that parents should take their time with next spouse and not jump bed to bed.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 7:51PM
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I'd like to know how this magazine defines whether a kid is "tripped up"

Children of divorce (COD) have much poorer rates for college attendance/graduation. I see that as a problem. CODs have higher divorce rates.

I see these as real issues.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 8:32PM
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Stepfamily Strength

I understand wanting a link KKNY. Here's one I found just by googling the first few sentences. I found it in Parenting Magazine.

I agree that parents shouldn't hop bed-to-bed. No one should. It's unhealthy for many reasons: psycological, emotional, physical...etc...

I don't know how much college completion has to do with lasting marriage, but I agree that completing common goals and having a solid foundation (having skills, etc) can reduce stress in a marriage.

My DH and I both completed college before marrying. My boss didn't.... he's on 35 years of marriage :)

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 1:13PM
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Well, here's what it said re 80% of kids OK

Hetherington, however, is quick to point to her finding that 80 percent of children of divorce and remarriage do not have behavior problems, despite the expectations and challenges, compared to 90 percent of children of first marriage families. Kids whose parents divorce and remarry are not doomed.

Gee, not doomed. But nothing about finishing college etc. To me, thats a pretty low standard. My point is I want my DD to finish college. SMs dont seem to care.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2010 at 9:30PM
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"SMs dont seem to care."

I want your DD to finish college too... and I care. (enough to say a little prayer for her)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 12:11AM
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LOL. I'm not going to put my foot into this one. Well, maybe just a toe...

I wonder though, if they compared children of parents who stayed together even though they were miserable to children of parents who divorced and became remarried happily to children of parents who never remarried and were cynical and bitter to children of parents who never remarried and were college educated to children of parents who were not college educated to children of parents who were wildly successful despite not having a high school education to children of parents who were left handed....

The point I'm trying to make is... 47% of statistics are made up :) Ever hear that one??? Sorry, I'm a business major... It's green apples to yellow apples, ripe apples, to apple sauce to apple juice. There is absolutely no way to get a completely spot-on reading on the absolute best way to raise a kid. Some of the worst people I've ever met had the absolutely most wonderful parents, still married, stable, funny, happy, loving people. And for-crap kids. And some of the greatest people I've ever met had total piss childhoods. So there is no magic formula.

I had an interesting conversation with my husband's aunt last weekend. Her father had several long-lasting affairs. Her parents were married until the day he died (last year). Her mother has never forgiven him and is still angry. I asked her if she thought it was better that they stayed together for the kids. She said absolutely not. It traumatized her.

I divorced my ex because of his affair-issues. I'm happily re-married to a very stable man. My dd is a stable kid. Had she grown up in a family where dad was cheating on mom and mom lived with it I think she would have had a lot of issues.

Step-families are hard. But if you do it right, it just means one more person to love and care for your child. And in the case of my remarriage, my dd has a ton of step-family relatives who treat her as their own. It's a beautiful thing, if people can accept one another as family... if there is ENOUGH LOVE TO GO AROUND.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 1:46AM
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I think the premise of the article is flawed -- or how it is relied on. I read the article, and while not clear, seems to refer to only kids who have documented behavior problmes as kids who are tripped up. That is such a low level it does not equal strength to me. In any event, what is says is a COD is 50% more likely to be tripped up than a non-COD. Also the conclusion that "tripped up" is based primairly on parental conflict leaves open many questions. What if parents had counesling pre-divorce and avoided divorce?

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 8:03AM
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I don't know KKNY. What do you think? If you had counseling and avoided divorce do you think your DD would have as much respect for you? (oh, dad had affairs but mom took him back)

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 12:36PM
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I don't think it's JUST about one thing. There are many aspects to consider:

What is doomed? Messed up? Tripped up?

1. College: I tend to agree with kkny. COD may go to college less than children with intact families. But, I also believe that children of single parents go to college less than children of remarried parents that are better off financially BECAUSE they are remarried. (of course a college fund or scholarships are other variables that impact whether the child can go to college) Lots of variables may include family values on whether higher education is important, how many kids do they have to send to college, etc. (and I don't rule out that a stepparent may not want to fund a stepchild's college... that's why parents should have a college fund for their child set up long before a divorce or as part of their custody/support agreement if they want their child to be able to go to college without relying on a stepparent's income.

2. Emotionally, I believe it is the conflict that a child is exposed to that creates a lot of problems. Children may be depressed, act out, and as they grow up, they eventually get through it or succumb to things like drugs/alcohol, develop eating disorders and find other ways to deal with the emotions. I believe this is true whether the child lives with his "unhappily" married parents, divorced parents that fight a lot, and remarried parents that fight... any conflict in any situation is not good for the kids.

3. Relationships: Kids learn about relationships from the parents/role models. If parents stay together 'for the kids', then what message is that sending the kids? If mom tolerates dad cheating, it may send a message to sons and daughters.... irregardless of whether kids have respect for the cheating parent or respect the parent that stays with the cheater. It teaches kids HOW to have a relationship & when kids can't have relationships (or have troubled ones) because of what they saw in their parent's marriage, the impact of what the parents did can last a lifetime.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2010 at 2:53PM
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The whole college question is a very interesting one, and a difficult one to resolve. I saw an article years ago (sorry, I don't have a link) where they were discussing whether or not kids in college got regular financial support from their parents; they were counting any amount so long as it was regular (per month, per semester, whatever, parents were helping out.) It was something like 80 some percent of married parents provided something on a regular basis, while a lesser percentage of divorced parents did....but when the parents were re-married the amount who provided regular support plummeted. They did not discuss the percentage of re-married parents who had new children in their second marriage; I'm betting the amount would be even lower.

So it sounds like a good thing to get into a divorce settlement (that parents have to contribute towards college) - except there is no requirement that married parents contribute towards college, so why should divorced parents be forced to? Is it fair to force parents to pay for colleges for a kid who decides to attend some ridiculously over-priced trade school where they will attain no degree and only be eligible for a barely minimum wage job? Is it right to force parents to pay for a kid who is borderline flunking all of their classes? And then force them to pay for those classes to be re-taken?

Is it right that, when applying for financial aid for college, step-parents income is taken into account, thereby lowering the chances that the kid is eligible for grants? (I love how it's always claimed that step-parents are not "required" to support their sKids - except that our income is counted for so many things and it is assumed that we will, in fact, financially support them.)

Ideally, of course, everyone would work together to get these issues resolved. In real life I don't know what the best solutions are. My father contributed nothing towards college for us, and could certainly have done so. I honestly would not expect that my step-mother should have; she was working to help support her own children. I will certainly help with SS8, but since he lives with us we are also the ones who will be most able to make sure that he studies, keeps his grades up, and is prepared for college. If I had a step-child who was rude, disrespectful and treated college like a joke, frankly I'd be unhappy if DH were forced to pay for their schooling, and I most certainly would not (because I wouldn't pay for a bio-child of mine in those circumstances either).

Apparently in our state parents are court ordered to pay sometimes. Besides the ability to pay, they are supposed to take into account the parent/child relationship, and how the child is contributing towards their own education. This sounds like as reasonable as one can make it; that way a good kid who is covering 75% of their tuition on scholarships and grants is not left in the lurch, but a parent may not be obligated to pay for a slacker child that they no longer even see who would rather go to college and party for a year than go to work.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 11:23AM
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mattie, I wouldn't think it's fair to require divorcing parents to pay for college but at the time of divorce, if they had previously discussed sending the kids to college & want to make sure that happens, they SHOULD put it in the MSA to protect that verbal agreement. But, then again... things change. If parents are financially well off when married & want an expensive college... what happens if they hit financial hard times later? That can happen even if they stay married. After divorce, when there are two households to support, even if nobody remarries money can be tight... or the economy changes, etc.

I agree, remarriage complicates things... my son had to include my husband's income which affected him getting financial aid/grants. My son (just turned 21) was being disrespectful to my DH the first couple of years we were married, so having to use DH's income & my son not getting any financial aid/grants that first year... only made things more tense. and DH did not want to contribute a dime (of his money or mine) to help DS because my son was being a sh*thead and he wanted DS to get a job, which he finally did. It was hard for me, but I'm glad we stuck together on it (though at the time I thought DH was being unfair or too harsh) but my son had to ask DH for a ride to school for one semester (because the college was a couple of blocks from DH's work) and DH agreed to put his books on a credit card if DS would pay in payments.. it really helped DS get an attitude adjustment toward DH that they were able to interact with some give/take. They still have headbutts occasionally but they get along much better & DS is more respectful.. he's now working full time & paying his own expenses. DS's bio father paid me a lump support $10k for 18 years of back support... and bought DS a few expensive gifts the first year and hardly any contact anymore.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2010 at 2:33PM
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Mattie, being divorced means you lose control over a lot of things. The court determines if your child has to spend time with some adult you barely know or may hate. So for the court to determine if you should pay for college, thems the breaks.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 4:38PM
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OMG, what an interesting topic. Well, to weigh in with my personal kitchen research...

I have a female cousin (I have a lot of cousins so there is at least one example in my family of darn near everything LOL) who had a terrible first marriage to a physically, mentally and emotionally abusive husband. She divorced him after around 7-8 years and 2 young kids later. Both parents hold advanced degress from a prestigious university( this is relevant in the story.)

Both have remarried to college grads, professional people, ex husband has had a child by the second wife. Fast forward 20 years (eek makes me feel SOOO old) her kids have BOTH graduated from fine colleges, her youngest, the boy, is scheduled to graduate with a law degree from a Top 3 university, the child from husbands 2nd marriage is in college, the kids from cousins 2nd husbands also college grads or soon to be with one, at 29 years old, with a deep six figure job. Go figure? When law school kid graduates, he too will be deep in the six figures at 26 years old.

Four divorces including the 2nd spouses of cousin and her ex, a total of six step kids, 2 from cousin's 1st marriage, 2 from her 2nd husband. 1 from her ex's 2nd marriage and one from his 2nd wife's 1st marriage. All college grads. One, the law school ace, "tripped up" in high school, was busted from marijuana possession, sent to very strict high school, went to college and now is #2 in his top tier law school class.

Why are all of these children of divorce and step families thriving overall? Because ALL of the parents were committed to their success, set aside some really rotten issues from 1st marriages and ex spouses and looked forward.

I think those are good stats. I'm just all revolves around the parents, especially the cooperation of the parents from the first marriages. Gotta leave those grudges at the door if you REALLY love your child or children.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 5:39PM
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