Here are some solutions to problems that may arise when stepchildren are staying for any long period of time.
His children, ages 5, 7 and 10, are coming for six weeks this summer. His present wife works outside the home. He works outside the home. Whose job is it to take care of the children?
He says his 10-year old is very responsible. She can babysit.
The wife says, “No, she’s too young. I will not put that responsibility on her.”
He says, “If you don’t like my plan, you figure it out.”
She says, “They’re your children.”
He says, “You knew I had children before I married you. It was a package deal.”
The wife got quiet and then suggested she find a baby sitter.
Fourteen telephone calls and two weeks later the wife found a sitter and a day camp for the children to attend part-time. Neither husband nor wife is happy with the additional expected financial outlay. But both have agreed not to fight about how much money they are spending on the children. Other issues they still had to deal with:
Whose job will it be to cook, keep the house picked up, and do the extra laundry? Who will take responsibility to tell the children what chores they must do, when to shower, when to go to bed, when to stop jumping on the sofa?
Slowly we worked out a plan whereby she would take responsibility for directing the children regarding showers and eating and helping clean up after dinner. Additionally, she would arrange some family activities, including a week’s vacation at the lake.
He would take charge of everything else — making carpool arrangements, doing laundry, writing up a list of chores for the children with his wife’s input, and then monitoring who was doing what. He further agreed that if his wife wanted him to deal with a particular issue with one of the children, he would handle it as she wished. He would acquiesce.
She agreed to shrug a lot, say “whatever,” understand that the house would frequently be messy, and get away by herself two evenings a week. The two of them would get a sitter so they could be alone on Saturday nights. Over the course of the summer, she would write a list of 100 things she liked about the children and give it to me.
He agreed to give his wife 100 compliments for helping care for the children. He would give me a list of his compliments. He further agreed to do more than his usual share of housework while the children were in town.
I would act as the moderator, with a few phone consults if things got sticky.
I then gave this couple my standard spiel: “The children are not responsible for the divorce or for having a stepmother. It’s something they must adjust to through no fault of their own.”
• Stepchildren are a lot of work and are often ungrateful. In this regard, however, they are no different than children generally.
• It is the responsibility of the parent, not the stepparent, to do the lion’s share of the work involved in caring for the children.
• When a stepparent takes too hard a line with her stepchildren, the marital relationship suffers because the natural parent will not look kindly on such behavior and his feelings will be adversely affected.
• Lead with your brains, not your emotions. Accept that you will sometimes have to give in or take responsibility when you don’t really believe you should have to. Be generous with forgiveness and be determined that you’ll respect each other and the children.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,” and “Thin Becomes You”at Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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