My Spouse or My Kids?

My Kids or My Spouse?

You married for love. You married forever. But you never expected your marriage would involve having to choose between your new spouse an...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Are You Like Your Parents Were?

I heard it again this last week:
"I'm turning into my mother, the way I'm acting with my kids!"

And, as I usually do, I asked, "Is that good or bad?"

And I got the typical answer: "I don't know. Some ways good, but others bad."

We are so often so tied up in worrying that we'll harm our children and stepchildren that anything seems dangerous. If we punish too severely, we're afraid we'll warp them; if we're too lenient, we're afraid we'll spoil them. Then there's the fear of the horrible DHS knocking at the door to confuse everything!

With all these concerns about how we raise our kids, the most personally upsetting is the fear that we'll turn into your own parents. Why is this so dreadful? Maybe it's because we'll feel like liars or imbeciles if we go back on that vow we made at age 16 that "I'll never be like you!" Or maybe it's because we're secretly afraid our kids will turn out to be just like us with their kids!

Back then, they were the enemies, or at least the watcher to be outwitted and out done! But the situation is very different now that we are the parents - the jailers, the spoilers of fun. And the question has to be asked:

Were we wrong 'way back then? Were our parents actually right in all their rules and regulations that cramped our style? Were we as dimwitted as our kids seem to be sometimes? We sure felt smart at 16, didn't we?

So here's the question for you:
Are you becoming like your parents? and 
Is that good or bad?

Let's brainstorm a bit. Click on the "comments" link below this post and tell us if you've followed your parents' lead or if you've gone another direction. Then tell us a little of why you've done which ever.

I'll give you a week to enter your thoughts, then we'll digest them and see what they all mean.

See you in a week,

Monday, September 21, 2009


Got a letter recently asking me what I thought the writer (a dad) should focus on leaving his son. He was wondering if the focus should be things, memories, or what. I contacted the guy and we talked about what kind of a dad he wanted to be remembered as - a provider, an inspirer, or a shadow who worked a lot.

It's an important thing for a man to consider - the legacy he will leave behind.

My own father died in '06, a week after his 90th birthday. He was in great shape up until he broke his arm in a silly accident nine months before that, then he just went downhill at a steady pace.

My reaction has been sort of roller coaster-ish. Dad and I had a horrible start. He was a drunk who fought with my tea-totaling mom often - every time he'd come home schnockered he'd light into her ... and her mother ... and her sisters ... and every other woman he could think of. I spent a great deal of my youth crying for them to stop.

Many years later, and especially after my mother died in '00, Dad and I got closer. I learned that he was a funny guy who liked to laugh and have fun. We actually became friends the last few years of his life. My wife tells me that I have a lot of my dad in me - the funny, outgoing, never-met-a-strange-waitress bits, not the drunk bully bits.

It's really very complicated for a man looking back at the man who begat him. I find that the longer he's gone, the more I remember good things I'd forgotten about my youth. I remember weekend drives into the mountains when the three of us would walk around lakes only Dad seemed to know about. I've learned that he didn't really want another kid - my sister was 15 years older than I was. He was ready to retire when I accidentally came along. I guess he didn't handle the surprise and additional burden of me well. At least not until I was grown and on my own, out of his sphere of responsibility.

Good guy/bad guy. Dad was like most of us, a little of both. And I, I'm learning, am a lot like him.

Don't let your death be the first time your kids stop to really consider what kind of parent you have been. Think about what you want them to remember, but also welcome the opportunities to talk to them about yourself and your relationship to them now, while you can. Too late comes too soon.

Happy trails,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Are You Up to the Challenge?

Your kids and stepkids are challenging you! And you'd better be up for that challenge if you know what's good for you. Fail at this and you'll be fighting to regain ground the rest of your life.

"You are NOT my mom! You can't tell me what to do! And I don't have to listen to you!"

This is simply your loving stepchild's way of saying, "Excuse me please, could you kindly straighten out for me the question of authority and respect in this new family situation? Thank you very much." (Yes, it really does mean that!)

When they give you The Look, or refuse to acknowledge you, or talk down to you, they are tossing out a challenge and a question that says, "Just exactly where do you and I stand in this new household?" And your first answer will stand for a long time.

If you fail to answer correctly, you'll have more than double the work to re-inform them.

What is the right answer? Well, it's a careful balance of love, respect for them, and an insistence for respect from them. If you answer too softly ("Oh, OK, sorry to have upset you, dear.") you'll be telling them that you are fair game for all sorts of attacks.

Yet if you go too far the other way ("Hey kid! You better watch your mouth! I'm ...") then you'll tell them you're so intimidated by them you have to attack to defend yourself.

The best way to answer is somewhere in between. It depends on the age of the child, what else they've been through before you, your spouse's position on supporting you, and your own self-confidence. A good answer may be, "I know I'm not your mother, and I don't intend to try to be. But because your dad has invited me into your family, I do deserve respect, at least for his sake."

The first encounters are not set in granite. You can improve your position with your stepkids. But it takes some special approaches involving their biological parent, you, and teamwork for the whole family.

If you're already dealing with the results of a mis-handled first challenge, I can help you rebuild and establish a firmer footing with your new family. But the longer you wait, the harder it is to correct. Get help soon!

STEPcoach Bob Collins

Show your STEPfamily Pride!