Closer to the conversation, I think

ulrike1November 10, 2009

I am thinking more and more that DH is going to have to say something to BM about the boundaries issue, but after all these years, I am so afraid it will upset the apple cart of the amicable relationship the two houses have had.

Yesterday DH was meeting with some clients in his office. The conference space is large and in the front of the office. All of a sudden who should show up but BM. She came by to drop off a photo from the music event they attended last month. A beautiful portrait of SD's ensemble, and it was nice of her to get him a copy. BM claimed she was "just passing by," but DH says she is never in that part of the city.

She unveiled it in front of his clients and others in his office, and then she just stood there. DH awkwardly introduced her to the clients and his office staff, and then did the "Well, I better get back to my meeting" thing. BM proceded to linger in the reception area (visible through the glass of the conference room wall) and make some calls before popping her head back into DH's office during a meeting break and talking about some SK-related stuff. DH said she was there for about 15 minutes.

Why wouldn't she just bring it by our house? DH thinks she wanted to see his new office space. He is pretty upset--this was an important set of clients and to have his ex-wife show up and hang around like that is weird.

I really don't want to hurt her, but, so inappropriate! But then I think I should do a reality check. Does her showing up like that seem wrong to you guys? And what would you do? DH said he doesn't want to get into any kind of emotional discussion with her; he thinks it would positively reinforce her. Can we get her to back off in a way that doesn't motivate her to continue to seek engagement?

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I don't think it is "we", i think it is your DH who has to figure out what to do. it is his work place and he is a grown man. Hopefully he can deal with his ex on his own, I don't think "you" need to be doing anything, you aren't even there. But showing up at work is OK if it is previosuly discussed, without warning I would not want anyone to show up at my work. she probably does not want to show up at the house because it upsets you. whatever is the reason if it disrupts his day, he should say so.

It is very simple to resolve (for DH not you), he could tell her that he is uncomfortable when people show up at work unannounced, he is stressed enough at work. it is easy to say. i told family members to not call me at work unless it is an emergency, my dad used to call me to talk. LOL so, DH can stand up for himself. but if you interfer you would come across as insecure and controlling, let him do what is appropriate. he doesn't need to argue wiht her, just tell her nicelly do not that next time. and he should not say that his wife doesn't like it, it would not sound right.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:06PM
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NO ONE should arrive at work unannounced, unless just for a very quick stop. Bringing a cup of coffee, for instance.

..."BM claimed she was "just passing by," but DH says she is never in that part of the city."

Hmmmmmmm.... do you think it's possible that she may live her life a little different, and that DH may not know exactly what she is doing, where she is doing it, who her friends are and what her schedule is at all times anymore? If that sounds sarcastic... it is a little, but not intended in a mean fashion. If my EX dared postulate my habits years after we'd been divorced I'd think he was a bit wacko. People and their habits change.

This is for your DH to handle. It can be done so easily, without it being an EX issue. It's a common courtesy issue. Even my DH doesn't stop by my work unannounced, and he and my boss are on very friendly terms. It's a matter of professional respect, and he should respectfully tell her so.

If the room was glass, presumably he could see her outside as well as she could see him inside. He should have preempted her arrival in the room, or upon entry said "clients, will you excuse me for a moment" and then led her out of the room and told her he'd be available at ______ time if she wanted to talk but he was very busy at the moment. HE was the one who created the awkward situation by not establishing boundaries.

It's not your place to do anything. You weren't there. Let DH be a big boy and figure this one out for himself. It sounds to me like he has issues creating boundary lines where she is concerned. This will be good practice for him, or he will keep getting himself stuck in awkward situations... his choice.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:48PM
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Thanks, Finedreams and Silversword. You are totally right that this should be DH's problem to solve, though I do blame myself in part for things getting to this point.

A bit of history. When DH and I first met, he and BM were in the divorce process, which was prolonged. I know, bad idea; I would advise anyone who falls for someone who isn't firmly and totally severed from a previous relationship to put it totally on hold until the former couple is utterly oblivious to one another. Which is more likely to happen if the two are monks and nuns for the duration, ha.

Anyway, once their divorce settlement was finally completed and DH was free, we began dating seriously. We wanted to introduce the children slowly (mine and his) and we saw a counselor at that point to help with the process. With my kids things went smoothly; my ex and I were cordial and my ex gave my kids positive vibes about DH.

BM and DH, however, were still very hostile. They had a lot of disagreements about the kids back then. And I will never forget the first time she brought them to DH's place when I was there. The air of animosity around those two wonderful little girls was palpable. And I resolved right then that if DH and I were to become a permanent couple, that bettering the relationship between SDs' parents would be an important part of the family building process.

So, long story short (and oh it is such a long story), I have always been the point man in the relationship with BM. I know you guys would not approve since you think everything should be between the two of them but my DH just isn't gifted at dealing with her. Over the years I have managed to craft a surface-level friendship with her and yes, I do most of the arrangements. If I didn't, DH's desire to avoid her would have meant that things weren't as cooperative between them as would have been best for the girls.

I'm not sure what is happening with her now. Maybe it is some leftover unfinished business she feels with DH? But you are right. I should stay out of it now and stop trying to fix everything. Ha, I have "trained" DH to be cordial to her. Let's see if he can do it on his own. I think he does need to express something about the boundary issue. Without my coaching, and whatever happens happens.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 2:16PM
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Ulrike, what I get from your posts (not just this one either) is that DH is uncomfortable because you are. Not necessarily that he is uncomfortable with what BM is doing, kwim? When you described the incident about BM calling when you were in the car and how you stayed quiet to see what BM said, I had the thought you should be more interested in how DH acts/talk when your not around.....My point being, I think your focusing on the wrong person. If this stuff is an issue for you, I think you need to be honest with DH. No hints, no trying to figure out WHY BM is doing these things or focusing on her etc. A flat out conversation with DH about what makes you uncomfortable and then see how HE reacts.

I'll be honest, if this stuff was as uncomfortable for him as you describe....most people figure out how to deal with it. He is not, so why?

Also, this last post of yours fit into my hypothesize on the other thread about men getting involved quickly after divorce. I do think its an issue and one that will have issues scattered about and remain in the new marriage for awhile. Point in case, boundaries are still very much blurred in your situation 20 years later and it sounds like you might be a bit insecure? I dont know if that is the case, but my interpretation of all your posts it sounds like you're asking what is normal/not normal behavior for BM for your own decision making in regards to what you're uncomfortable with.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 4:02PM
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I agree that this is DH's problem to handle. BM doesn't sound like she is any threat to you. Also, it sounds like DH hasn't done HIS part to set and maintain boundaries. In the case of the office visit, I would say that most people would not have accepted the visit or the kid's photo during an important client meeting. Much less introduce an unexpected, unwelcome guest to anyone. The glass walls and BM's ability to see that he was there is not the point. Your DH could have handled it very differently. I'm not sure that one is on BM, maybe she knows that he will accomodate her that way based on prior experience. No offense intended, but your DH needs to toughen up a bit if he really wants to limit the contact. Sorry, it's just not all her!

It does sound like you have a bigger issue with her being in touch than he does.

My DH and his ex were in uncomfortable close contact for many years. He set some tough boundaries and eventually, the constant contact slowed down. Now they rarely speak although I don't know if that is healthy either since there are family issues they could be helping with as parents. (a different subject.)

You feel she is invading your space and is on your turf! I don't know if she is or is not, all that matters is that YOU don't like it. DH is the one who has left the door open for her to do that. If there is not enough room, then you need to address this with him or let it go.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 4:54PM
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Thanks for your thoughts, Nivea! I totally agree that when you get involved with someone while they still have emotional stuff going on with a previous partner, even if it is negative, it makes it hard to get closure. It really does muddy the waters.

I do want to ask about something you (or someone else? I'm sorry if my memory is failing me here) have said several times: that my husband is only uncomfortable with BM's behavior because I am? If it weren't for me, DH would have had no contact at all with BM. He was already working out a system where they would pick up and drop off the children at a relative's home when I came along. He just plain doesn't like her. It's funny to me how two people could get along well enough to marry and have children and then realize they have nothing in common. Anyway, I know I sound like I "doth protest too much," but I'm quite confident that DH is more uncomfortable with BM's boundary violating than I am.

DH teased me that I am having a "BM adolescence." That I am wanting to fly the nest like a teenager and not be beholden to "Mom." Which is true. I have really backed off from her. We talked today and he hypothesized that BM is feeling anxious because she's picking up on that. That she is seeking reassurance from him now.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 5:50PM
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Lamom, how did your husband set the boundaries with his ex? What was the situation before he did? I have always been afraid that we would have the same outcome that you guys experienced, that they would not be able to co-parent very well without the frequent contact.

We have a number of friends in blended families who think we are nuts for the degree of contact we both had with the other parents/other houses/new stepparents, etc. I do know people who keep it completely businesslike, email only, send messages with the kids. But for our particular kids, having all the parents interact a lot has been the best choice. (For one thing, they knew they couldn't get away with anything, ha.)

I keep thinking back to this being my own adolescence. I hate when DH is so right! Now that the SKs are grown up and at college away from Mom, I want us to be too.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 5:59PM
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First for clarity's sake, my skids are adults now. When I began dating DH SS was a teen. The need for consistent contact ended some years ago however, because SS, albeit an official adult, has plenty of issues, I feel that as parents there are some things they could work together on.

That being said, DH stopped initiating calls with BM unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. He only returned her calls. He scaled back the opportunities for them to meet. DH limited their contact to ONLY family or kid functions. No carpooling here or there. Financial things, which have ended between them now, were done through the mail, face to face meetings to give checks or cash curtailed. He stopped accepting "messages" from his son via his ex-wife.

Basically, the way anyone would distance themselves from someone in any situation.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 8:23PM
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"I do want to ask about something you (or someone else? I'm sorry if my memory is failing me here) have said several times: that my husband is only uncomfortable with BM's behavior because I am? If it weren't for me, DH would have had no contact at all with BM. He was already working out a system where they would pick up and drop off the children at a relative's home when I came along. He just plain doesn't like her. It's funny to me how two people could get along well enough to marry and have children and then realize they have nothing in common. Anyway, I know I sound like I "doth protest too much," but I'm quite confident that DH is more uncomfortable with BM's boundary violating than I am. "

Ulrike, this is the first time I mentioned it sounded like you were more uncomfortable than DH is. But anyway, their divorce was like 20 years ago, right? I think its a stretch to assume that he is uncomfortable now off of behavior 20 years ago, things and people change. Its also pretty iffy to base peoples behaviors or feelings towards someone during or right after a divorce, there is so many feelings and emotions that people behave crazy imo.

My point is that your DH sounds like someone who has the social skill set to be able to establish and enforce his own boundaries and he is not doing so. Why?

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 10:55AM
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they divorced twenty years ago? how is it possible? how old are the kids?

and if 20 years after divorce they still have these type of interactions or these types of boundaries or lack of them, why would you think it has to change? they both are clearly OK with what it is and you either have to finally accept (after all those years?) or...?

he is equipped to make divorce final (without your help i assume) so he is equpped to make decisions, so he is fully capable but makes no changes because he likes it this way.

also the fact that he says to you he does not like his ex, or he is uncomfortable or whatever else...I on occassion refered to my X "my crazy ex". well he is not crazy and I don't think he is. I sometimes say my dad is a bit nuts, LOL but I do not literally mean that he is mentally ill and he is not. your DH might say "oh my ex doesn't leave me alone," but who knows what he really thinks...

Well as about having or not having things in common. I don't think it is anyone's job to judge that plus if they have been divorced for so long who cares what they have in common. They do have their children...and by the way having things in common is not what it takes.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 11:37AM
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SDs are 20 and 18; BM and DH divorced 14 year ago. But still, that's a long time. Here is my conundrum: I am the one who has encouraged the civility between DH and BM. In DH's family, their divorces tend to be distant and unfriendly; in my family, there's a real effort to get along. (Ha, what does it say about our society that I am chatting about the divorce style of my family vs. his?)

I'm not sure why you guys, who do not know DH or BM, insist that he is comfortable around her? I think I'm a pretty good judge of body language. I don't mean he is utterly miserable; if we can steer the conversation around the kids, we can find common ground and share that with her. But he is quite formal--a defense mechanism. She seeks to enter his personal space beyond what he likes, which makes for a constant and annoying dance when they are together. (She does the same thing with me, for that matter, when it's just the two of us--just a style thing.)

Finedreams, it sounds like you think that married people don't discuss their previous relationships? DH and I sure did! Some serious post-mortems before we let ourselves get involved, and over the years we have used our own failed previous marriages as a good example of what not to do. And the "having things in common" thing--having children in common is NOT enough. DH and BM have some pretty serious disconnects in their most basic ways of being (world beliefs, emotional makeup, etc.). Both of them became quite miserable quite fast once married.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 2:01PM
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My DH and his ex-wife are distant and unfriendly on a good day. I like it that way. It helps establish boundaries....LOL They've also been divorced for 14 years.

At this point, their relationship is what it is and nothing and no one is going to change the way they relate to one another.

Perhaps your encouragement that "we all get along" has blurred the boundary issue. There's no way I'd be happy that my husband's ex showed up at his work--for ANY reason, but it would be up to HIM to set things straight. She's not my problem--nor do I wish to make her my problem.

I think that the natural propensity toward anger happens for a reason--TO provide that disconnect needed for people to move on with their lives. Do divorced parents need to be civil? Ideally, yes. Do they need to be buddies or best friends? Certainly not.

I wouldn't have married my husband if he were friendly with his ex. Blech. LOL

But 14 years is a lot of water under the bridge and at this point, it seems unlikely to change... The good news is that the kids are adults now and there will be less and less reason to interact with mom.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 5:37AM
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I missed that your DH and BM have been divorced for 14 years! I had the sense that it was in the near past, like 2,3, or maybe 4 years.

Why worry? 14 years? Put in that context, who cares if they take trips down memory lane or she shows up at his job? Well, he should care about her showing up on his job but no offense intended, HE should have handled that differently instead of letting her in, introducing her around then complaining to you.

Ulrike, dear, after 14 years of divorce, there just shouldn't be much to worry about. Maybe, in fairness to BM, SHE is ready to be friends with DH. Just friends which I think is healthy. Maybe BM is trying to forge more of a friendship with her ex husband and that is not unheard of or weird. They don't have to be close friends and they do still share having kids even though the kids are grown.

Easy for me to say but relax!!!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 10:26AM
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I have been divorced for 17 years and would find it ridicilous if anyone accuse me and X for still having somehting between us. I assumed that thy just got divorced and you worry they still hung up on each other. 14 years is a very long time. I think you made a mistake in a very beginning by being the one who determnines their interactions. now when children are grown it is getting difficult for you to monitor their interactions. They do get along, so what are you upset about. first you didn't like that they didn't get long, now you don't like that they get along. sounds like a bit of a control issue.

I never said married people should not discuss their relationships. But it is not one spouse's job to judge what happened in the past and especially negate importance of the past. My SO's X is obnoxious plus very unattractive woman, yet I do not question why they got married more than 30 years ago, it is not my place to judge. They surelly loved each other and married because of that. I have very little in common with my X yet we loved each other, were married and shared a child. I am pretty sure his wife is not questioning why I and he got married more than 20 years ago. It is pretty obvious why.

and once again if 14 years after divorce that's the kind of interactions they have then that's what it is. Is not going to change. and why does it have to change? her showing up at work ...he could just ask her not to. everything else...i see nothing wrong there.

sorry for typos, typing on my lunch

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 11:31AM
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I did not read all the posts. All I can suggest is that the next time exwife shows up at dh's office maybe he could send a secretary to tell her that he is very busy and has no time to speak to her right now. He says he will call her later. Bye!

And if bm pops in his office somehow he should just look up and say "is our child ok?" if she says yes then he should say he is at work and has a lot to do and stopping by his office is a bad idea, please do not do it in the future!

Don't engage in conversation or be polite. Be straight to the point. This is my place of work and there is no room for socializing here.I can not have visitors coming to see me.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 11:58AM
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Ulrike, I am only going by what you're posting. IMO, if someone is that uncomfortable --- they make changes. DH is not making changes and he just says stuff to you. Its about the same theory as seeing what BM says to DH when she thinks you're not around, how is he acting when you're not around? You don't know, you can only go off of actions...i.e. he is not changing anything. Like a previous poster said, he would set boundaries like any other person would, its that simple. If he is leading a meeting with clients, it says to me he is fairly socially savvy and could do it probably pretty easily.

ITA with Finedreams last post too. Especially this part "I think you made a mistake in a very beginning by being the one who determnines their interactions. now when children are grown it is getting difficult for you to monitor their interactions. They do get along, so what are you upset about. first you didn't like that they didn't get long, now you don't like that they get along. sounds like a bit of a control issue."

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 12:06PM
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I totally agree with you about the boundary thing. There is such a set of contrasting needs in stepfamilies. There is the need for the children's world to not be bisected and confusing for them, so that they don't feel like they are cut in half and stressed. On the other hand, the married couple feels the need to be a closed system, not open to other people who are seeking inappropriate emotional closeness.

Or rather, I should say the married couple USUALLY feels that, and what is most important is that the two people share the same degree of comfort about "outsiders"--which their exes become once the new couple is formed.

That is one of the reasons DH and I have ended up with the system where we have required BM to deal with us as a couple. Our stepfamily counselor suggested that policy. He said that there is no reason, once a person is remarried, for their ex-partners to insist on a relationship with them that excludes their new mate. At first I was like "Whaaaat?" But the counselor said that the best way to minimize boundary annoyances was to welcome the ex-spouses as friends of the COUPLE, not exclusively of the one person to whom they were formerly married.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 2:21PM
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Ha, I loved your "easy for me to say"! Yes, in theory, I should be pleased that BM is becoming more friendly with DH. In reality, not so much. It's just weird that after all these years she is specifically focusing on him. For so long she would email me with questions about the schedule, etc., because I was the coordinator of all the kids' activities. Now that there is less of that, she is focusing back on DH exclusively. She has started calling again and asking for him when I answer, something she had not been doing for a long time.

I'm not sure why it bothers me! As you say, in a way it is a relief, and it IS, to not be the person who has to deal with her. On the other hand, even though my DH doesn't like her, it still isn't pleasant to have her making these new attempts at an exclusive relationship with him. It's not like there is a chance in hell that she is a threat to me, so why should it be so irritating?

I think back to our old counselor again. When DH and I were first married, we each dealt with our exes alone. My ex was businesslike and friendly to DH if they met. BM, at first, would avoid dealing with me, and my DH to my mind accomodated it. The counselor probed this issue and DH said "I just want to protect Ulrike1 from unpleasantness." And he admitted that he was kind of embarassed by BM. The counselor said that no matter what, no matter how comical and unlikely the chance of success, it still does not feel good to have someone "treat our mate like a mate." That was an eye-opener for us both; I felt like the counselor gave me permission not to feel like a "jealous shrew" (my words, ha), and DH realized that having me there took the heat off of him some.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 2:37PM
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Finedreams and Nivea, you are right--if it weren't for me, DH and BM would have had very little contact over the years. I do have to take responsibility for that. But, I still think it was the right thing to do. And now we are entering a new stage and there are growing pains all around, no doubt.

Last night after she called him once again on a flimsy premise, DH told me that he'd had this mental picture that once the girls were away at school, that he would not have to deal with her until their weddings, ha.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 2:44PM
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yeah, well, the counselor's advice sounds ok. But, is not working in practice.

What is it exactly that you want? For her to always deal with the two of you? Or for her to respect you while she deals with DH? Or for her to disappear althogether.

I'll say now, this is a bit of a tempest in a teacup. I've been on the receiving end of an ex-wife being in touch with my husband. I separate some of the worst things that happened with that from how I feel as his wife versus his ex-wife. In fact, if you feel that there is a "me versus her" thing going on after 14 years of divorce plus your marriage, the people to look at are you and him. Sorry sweetie.

Relax. The counselor gave you advice not laws.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 2:49PM
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I think I will do just that. Affirm to DH this new trend isn't working for me. And, what even started this whole thread, he will talk to her about it for sure, because he has wanted to and I have been afraid of upsetting the apple cart. I need to have resolve and trust him because he's a big boy. The missing piece of my fretting about it was that when it hit the fan and her feelings get hurt, she would do something to upset the girls. But they are big now. Though they are sensitive, so I am a little nervous on their behalf.

Oh boy now I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 3:05PM
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"if it weren't for me, DH and BM would have had very little contact over the years. I do have to take responsibility for that." That actually wasn't my point, I don't think there is anyway to tell (how much contact anyway) would have happened or not....which is my point. They weren't given a chance to establish a coparenting relationship on their own and make it a stable one before introducing more characters. I think there is no way possible to tell how it would have ended up. I look at when my ex and I separated and if anyone had made a judgement on how we coparent even a year after separation --- they would have been very, very wrong.

I know we talked about it on another post, but even 14 years ago there wasn't very many good resources on blending families. Counselors, in my experience, varied wildly and even now, I think most are pretty uninformed about stepfamily issues. And yeah, we went to family counseling when I was a child and it mostly made issues worse. Most (again ime) go with the popular thoughts of every child wants a family, so stepparents act like parents etc.

The problem I see with that advice given to you is that it only works if the BM is on board with it. And you can't make her include you in every single little thing. It also makes it sound like she was the OW that had a child with your husband and you need to protect your marriage at all costs from a threat, not an ex wife that divorced your husband for a reason. To me, dropping off a picture at work is small potatoes -- so she sounds fairly normal. Now if she was insisting on holidays spent with DH without you, you got a big problem and there would be a need to treat this like a bigger issue. And on the flip side, I'm sure there are issues that she would've liked to resolve differently that happened.

I also can't imagine many BM's going along with include new SM in everything in saying that, it sounds to me that she is more on the reasonable side than most after a divorce. With my BM hat on, I'd think it was just downright strange. I didn't have a kid with SM, I don't really care what they set up for their marriage, its their business! Not mine. Whatever they want to do in their home, great, why are you insisting I act your way though? When people get married they dont start going to work for each other or calling their bosses about important work details, why any different for ex's? Its like when wives say they write their husbands emails for them, I can't wrap my head around it. Why? So if they are a horrible writer, why not give them the tools to become a better one? (I should take my own advice here lol) Instead of doing their homework for them?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 3:49PM
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This counselor actually specializes in stepfamilies, Nivea. Which is very unusual, or at least was back then. As you say, most counselors try to shoehorn stepfamilies into the nuclear family mold, which totally doesn't work. Or, they are very "first family"-centric, and treat the remarriage like an irrelevant afterthought or, worse, as something that is detrimental to the existing children by definition. They think they are working in the children's best interests, but by undercutting the marriage, they actually make the home less stable for the kids.

Our counselor stressed that if stepparents try to step in and try to replace the "missing" parent (as in, the gender of parent who is in the other house), it can cause all kinds of problems. I've never thought of myself as my SDs' primary parent in our house...except that from the very beginning, my DH wanted us to apply my parenting style, rather than that of BM (which was part of the problem they had when married). But I must say that my SDs didn't react like a lot of stepkids I know and have read about; I almost never got any resentment from them for some reason. (Maybe because I have been more than happy to let DH do the parenting heavy lifting; in our house he is their mom, ha.) Maybe part of it is how nicely the four kids blended--my kids fought, his kids fought, but the two sets were very harmonious. Another funny thing...temperamentally, SDs are more like me and my kids are more like my DH. Once I overheard YSD say, "Everyone has a mom and dad, but I have an Ulrike1 too."

My point is, I have indeed come to be a parent figure in my SDs lives, but think it's best to let that happen on the children's terms as much as possible. With no pushing by the stepparents and no pulling away by the bioparents in either house.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2009 at 5:54PM
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