Q&A with Paula Hall of Relate about being a step-parent: please post your questions here- ANSWERS BACK

(54 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 17-May-12 10:56:11

This week we're inviting you to put your questions about step-families to Paula Hall from Relate. Paula is the author of Relate's How to Have a Healthy Divorce and Help Your Children Cope with Your Divorce, and has extensive experience working as a relationship psychotherapist with couples in second relationships.

Whether you're in the early stages of a new relationship, or struggling to combine two families with quite different ways of doing things, forming a new family can be a real challenge.  Relate can offer support to help family members settle into new roles - if you'd like to know more, this video explains how family counselling works. 

In the meantime, Paula's very happy to answer any of your questions - from when to introduce a new partner, to dealing with loyalty issues and helping children adjust - so do post them here before the end of Monday 21st May, and we'll post her answers up the week commencing 28th May.

If you read or posted on the thread, we'd be really grateful if you'd tell us what you think by filling out this very quick survey.



NatashaBee Thu 17-May-12 11:26:41

Great idea for a Q&A! Marking my spot.

Hi Paula,

As both a mum and stepmum I would liketo ask at what point do you stop trying to have a civil relationship with the other parent when all you get back is abuse?

Also when joint residency is in place how should we cope with another parent who refuses to discuss and agree parenting decisions?

Finally, how much information sjould be shared between parents? For example, does the other parent have a 'right to know' if a new partner moves in with parent and child? Is it helpful to communicate changes/issues which may affect the child in both homes or is it better to keep homes as separate as possible?

Lots of questions sorry!

NotAgainAndAgain Thu 17-May-12 14:55:28

Being a well aged step-family (15 years) with ups and downs and all sorts at the beginning, we have reach some plateau which I have learnt to accept.
My DH has maintained the notion of 2 units (four of us and another three kids, 29-28-27) and even though we overlap and cordial and normal on the surface, my hopes that we will gel in some time in some happy big family still remain dreams. My attempts are not completely brushed away - I we play Family Tennis Cup , obviously dinners and birthdays, but it always end up as them and us in some not obvious but palpable way.
May be I should have prioritised it differently at the start, may be it is now too late to rock the boat, but sometimes my resentment surface and I do not like these feelings. I do not share them because my DH would take it as "why complicate if it worked so far".
I have had no grudges agains ex, she created no problems for me as such, only her problems with 3 kids were reaching me, but not too many to be fair.
My MinLaw went out of her ways to keep things for kids as they were, therefore some grudges are there (she did not include my elder daughter in her Nanny "circle", she specified her boundaries with the little one when she was born - there was never a case when she was with her one-to-one).
Our set up is not bad, but I still feel as "second family". Will it always remain?
I am a believer that if one wants a change - one should start with oneself. What can I start with? Even a talk (with DH) I see as an attempt to change his perceptions and find it frightening of likely re-affirmation what I feel as a result of it. Or should I count my blessings and be content that a second family will never become like first?

chelen Thu 17-May-12 15:37:04

Hi Paula,

Thanks for doing this Q&A.

My question is:

How would you advise resident parents and step parents respond to/support children who genuinely feel let down by their non-resident parent? So much co-parenting and step-parenting advice is based on an assumption of 'two committed parents who want to do everything they can to support the child' when the reality is sometimes very different. Is there anywhere resident parents can seek support to deal with non-ideal co-parenting situations?



CC2B Thu 17-May-12 16:55:43

Hi Paula

To counteract Chelen's question, I'd like advice on how to support my partner (non-resident parent) when his ex partner refuses to allow reasonable contact with his 7 year old and 3 year old. She claims it is inappropriate and unrealistic to extend his contact time (from 9.30am Saturday to 6.30pm Sunday every other weekend and every Thursday between 5pm and 6.30pm) saying the children are too young and that they've had too much change. My partner moved out last May and they've been doing overnights since September, with me in their lives since January. We moved in together to a new place in February. Therefore when this was first said in March, we thought it was fair enough. But the children have been really happy and seem pretty comfortable with everything and stayed for four nights over Easter, so we now don't understand the objection. I understand that she doesn't want to lose the children for another night but this way, they see their father for only 2 nights a month and never for a full day morning til bedtime. Surely that's not fair but how to persuade a still-angry and bitter ex? My partner has tried to point out what a court order could look like but she hasn't reacted to that at all in her responses. And how can I be a useful support without getting dragged into the emotional side of this too much?

coffeeandcake Thu 17-May-12 17:19:32

when do you introduce a new boyfriend to your children? my boys are 8&5, and i share their care with their dad. at the moment i seem to be living a double life, and although i don't have any plans NOW on introducing the parties (we've only been dating 3 months!), i don't think i'd know when the time WAS right!
i did try it ver early on in a previous relationship, and when that ended the children lost someone that they had developed relationships with.

chocolatebiscuits Thu 17-May-12 17:32:30

What advice would you give to me and my partner on moving our families in together?

We've been together two years, and the kids have known each other most of that time. He has four kids aged 9-15, and I have two aged 8 and 12. We've told them already and 5 of them are happy and excited about it but his 13 year old son is less so (he's not a very sociable child who prefers computers to company really). My partner's kids come every weekend, whereas mine are with me in the week and just half the weekends, so we'll have a fluctuating household size. We're moving into his house. We've agreed on house rules, but I'm worried about enforcing them, and also about general fighting and chaos with so many kids. But I'm also looking forward to it a great deal - how can we help everyone to get the most out of the new household?

Janet107 Thu 17-May-12 17:56:01

I too find myself in this position, often it seems and almost impossible. Am interested in any advice.

herfs Thu 17-May-12 18:30:22

my ex is now in a relationship and decided to stop paying our daughters schoolfees.Our divorceorder states he`s responsible for it.I`m scared if they should move in together he will say he cannot afford it due to expenses for his new household.His girlfriend gives her daughters old clothes to our daughter but I have never met her or know anything about her.I told my daughter not to accept it as I don`t want this to be a habit when he starts his new family and I also find it unacceptable and disrespectful of her.
How do one handle this potentially stressful situation
I cannot afford a lawyer again and I just want to move on with my life but it seems this is not possible when there is children involved.

prettyfly1 Thu 17-May-12 19:19:17

Great idea for a q and a. I would like to know what you suggest for how to manage behaviour with step children. Kids are kids and they need to know boundaries but this can be a really tough area for steps. Disney dads overcompensating for being away from thier kids, not wanting to over step the mark with the bio parents and as you know in many of these situations, the step becomes the target of the childs anger and confusion make it a minefield I think most of us could use some advice over.

auntiep Thu 17-May-12 19:20:55

I'm in a rather unusual position in that my partner's son has always lived with him since his sons mother left when he was a year old. We have been together since his son was a year and a half and have been living together for four and a half years now, with me taking on the role as my step sons primary carer. I have changed my job so I work term time, changed my hours so I can pick him up from school, take him to all the after school activities, GP, dentist, hairdresser etc. appointments. I have absolutely no problem doing this as I love him as if he were my own, however I worry should something happen to my partner, I would have no rights to how he should be cared for in the future.
My partner's ex has never acknowledged that I do all these things for my step son, and instead demands to see her son whenever it suits her (she seems to think that as she only seems him alternate weekends and 1 night midweek, that she ought to have Christmas, Easter, Bank Holidays and his birthdays). I don't believe she would be reasonable in allowing me access to see my step son should the worst occur.
Is there anything I can do to protect my rights (or don't I have any!)

Pedigree Thu 17-May-12 21:11:40

My ex refuses to communicate with me in any way other than using our young child as a messenger. I oppose to that, as I think this is completely unfair on DS and has caused already a lot of pain to him.

Ex has since stopped contact and said to DS that the only way he would agree to see him is if he doesn't have any contact whatsoever with me. Unfortunately, DS has some considerable medical problems so an update on handover is, most often than not, necessary. I have offered to put a note book on DS' bag with notes about medications, health updates, etc but ex refuses to use it, I cannot contact him via text, phone, email, or letter unless it is through a solicitor, which is not only impractical, but completely unaffordable to me.

Is there anything I can do for contact to be reestablished other than play to be the invisible woman and pray for ex not to accidentally kill DS? (yes, it is that bad) or, should I just give up, accept that DS's dad won't take an active part on DS' life? sad

And no, mediation is not an option as... never mind, he attacked me during a session. I don't qualify for legal aid and I don't have the resources to defend my case in court.

Should I just give up hope that one day they will have contact again, in order to protect DS's health?

somanymiles Thu 17-May-12 21:11:42

My DH (step-father) is resentful of time I spend with my DS and DD and has very low tolerance for normal childhood behaviours eg squabbling, playing piano badly, forgetting to close doors etc. This has become so much worse since we had our new DS (of whom he is the biological father) who is just a year old. DH sees any time I spend on my big kids, helping with homework/music practice, talking through any problems they are having etc as time taken away from him and DS2. He is a lovely man, has made a huge effort with the kids in the past, and admits fully to his feelings but I just don't know what the solution is. It's much worse with DS1 (who is 12), who can seem to do no right in DH's eyes. What can I do to diffuse the tension? I would love us to be one happy family.

allnewtaketwo Thu 17-May-12 21:26:18

My DH has 2 sons aged 16 and 12. He had to go to court for 'access' when they were 3 and 7 respectively. Until this day, his ex refuses to deviate from the court order, to the exact minute.

At their current ages (particularly the 16yo as I believe indeed that court orders for access expire at this age) the court would deem that they are old enough to decide for themselves when to see DH. Yet their mother is fiercely controlling and she simply would not allow this. In reality, they are terrified of her and there is continual evidence of emotional abuse.

Having been a regular member of the SP forum over many years, I have come to realise that this is not unusual. In my case, I strongly believe that the result of this is 2 extremely damaged children who will find it very difficult to grow into the world as adults.

My questions are:
- Is there any official recognition of the damaging effects that emotional abuse by a PWC can cause, in using the children to 'punish' an ex partner, consistently, throughout their childhood?
- What can the system do to address the issue of a PWC controlling 'access' well into the teenage years through emotional abuse?

mouldyironingboard Thu 17-May-12 21:26:20

My adult stepchildren refuse to have anything to do with me and completely ignore me so DH sees them on his own. I've been married to their father for 4 years and met him after he'd been single for several years. Do these situations ever change once stepchildren meet partners or have children of their own?

kitty19b Fri 18-May-12 08:07:06

My husbands ex wife continues to use his two boys aged 13 & 14 to hurt him. She messes him around seeing them and at the moment seems intent on stopping them from going to school (she didn't) as she knows he cares about their education. We try and avoid her but have seen her sitting at the end of our road in the dark, she is obsessed with my husband and tried to get back with him after cheating on him. What is the best way of dealing with this, what age will the children stop being brainwashed by her and is there any help for fathers like him please? I can't believe a mother could use her children in this way. I could write a book on the nightmare we have!

nongenderbias9 Fri 18-May-12 09:04:12

Yes it's funny how these stories reflect the kind of skewed society we live in. One in three children do not live with their birth father. 93% of children after separation end up living predominantly with their mother. Why do we disrespect the relationship between a father and his children? It is no wonder that in this country we have some of the most unhappy children in all Europe. Behaviour is poor and our prisons are overfilled. Could Prime Minister Camerons parenting classes be the answer?

Janiee69 Fri 18-May-12 09:11:57

Hi, I'm a mother of 7. 4 girls-14-20, 2 stepdaughters-16&19.have been primary carer 4 5yrs. Been tog 7yrs, married for 3yrs and have a son tog=4yrs 2 girls now not @home. Prob is we disagree about the kids!! My girls have no contact with their dad & the step girls do have contact with their mum now. She did disappear for a few years.My husband has been gr8 to my girls but in the last 18 months he has made it clear that his girls are priority. Whilst not with words, more with actions.When i question him he denies it but my girls now feel its no point asking him for help etc as its all about his. He drives his daughter to college, when everyone else gets a bus, she won't eat @ home now as she says she "can't" & when she is in a mood, no one can say a word. I am not allowed to discipline, have an opinion, mention anything but am ok to cook, clean, sort presents etc. Whilst I don't mind as I have always done so it has got to the point now that it's breaking the home unit. The eldest daughter makes it clear it's her dad& he jumps when she calls, despite her being nearly 20! My girls aren't perfect but i feel as a couple we should deal with the problems together.I adore my husband but his idea is that "I'll do my kids a & you do yours" I find this so hard & feel his kids play on this opinion. I prob was niave thinking we could all be a happy family but really want it to work for us all.He is also really strict on our son & yet falls over b.wards for his girls & never says no to them. I prob sound really childish but really need to know how to move 4ward as step mum &to get my husband to listen/talk to me cos I am at the end of my patience....... Sorry if I've gone on a bit too !!!

ArcticRain Fri 18-May-12 09:33:28

Hi ,

Two questions really. One general and one pets

ThrownIntoThis Fri 18-May-12 09:45:17

Not as serious as most posts but it would be nice to know:
My partner's son is 14 and his mum decided not to take a part in his life some years ago. Every so often she pops up when she decides she wants to see him, and he says he doesn't like it, has even said he is frightened that she will take him away. I'm confident that won't happen, and we try our best to reassure him that he is safe, we've told him all his teachers know that she is not allowed to take him home from school etc (she no longer has custody or parental responsibility or whatever that legal term is). For as long as he can remember, his mum has been a very unstable and volatile person.
My questions is: At 14, is it too late for him to trust that a female can play a positive role in his life? I worry what role I will ever be able to play in his life, and also whether he might find it difficult as he gets older forming serious relationships with girls. I want to do what I can to be supportive but find myself overanalysing every tiny thing that happens and getting into a bit of a spin. Is there a manual?

ArcticRain Fri 18-May-12 09:50:49

Hi ,

Two questions really. One general and one personal.

Has there been any research completed on how family breakdowns affects the nrp, generally the father . I ask because I notice , on both mumsnet and in real life , that there is often a huge amount of animosity generated towards the nrp , who tends to be the father . I think non resident fathers get a terrible press. If you read the post on here , often the father is a non maintenance paying , time wasting, not wanting to see the children , responsibility avoiding individual , while the mother is the hardworking self sacrificing parent . I refuse to believe that there are so many imperfect fathers and perfect mothers . Does separation from your children, and having to abide by visitation rules etc have an affect on nrp that people don't actually consider ?

And how can we tackle the assumption people make that the father is always a nrp and should be the maintenance payer ? We have experienced this numerous times . My DH doesn't pay maintenance . We have the kids 50/50 , split costs, and the mother has a well paid career and doesn't expect it .

On a personal note , we have rules regarding chores etc at our house , but at the mothers house there are little rules , and often a free house because she works shifts . This has resulted in teenage temper tantrums and outburst of 'You're always getting at me , ill go and live with mum , and then how would you like that ' if nagged to keep room clean , go to bed at a reasonable time etc.

How should we handle these threats and implement basic rules ?

Ukuleila Fri 18-May-12 11:58:41

Hello Paula,

two questions. First of all, at which age here in the UK a child can decide with which parent he wants to live? I've read somewhere in a law book that it is at the age of 12, but not sure if that is still correct.

Second question. What do you do when the biological mother of the child shows signs of mental instability (personality disorder) and does quite a big deal of parental alienation to her child? We currently have a 50/50 residency agreement, but the child - now 8 - is unwell. The school points into the direction of the mother, saying she is a mess and the boy lacks in structure and should best go full time with his father (this is an unofficial statement of course, as they are not allowed to take part in a custody fight). But they also warned us that here in the UK mothers are still favoured over fathers and should - by misjudgement of the Court - the mother get the custody back of the child, it would be disastrous to the child. Do you have any strategy or good advice on how to proceed in such a case. Many thanks!

NotaDisneyMum Fri 18-May-12 11:59:33

Hi Paula

My question stems from both personal experience, and reading the many posts from parents and step parents on MN.

What support is available for those of us who are attempting to co-parent with an ex-partner who suffers from mental illness, personality disorder or general challenging behaviour, but who is considered to be able to function independently in society (and therefore has no support network in place)? How can we share care with someone who alienates professionals involved in our childs welfare and education through their erratic behaviour? How can we compensate for a parent who can't make the link between their own behaviour and the welfare of their children?

I've read all the self-help books I can, registered with all the websites, and even attended courses to support separated parents - but at the end of the day I'm left thinking, yes - I've tried all that, but nothing has changed. Now what? Where's the next chapter?

Solicitors, mediators, teachers, social workers, CAFCASS officers, court officials and magistrates are ill-equipped to deal with people whose expectations of society and "the system" varies significantly from reality.
Professionals are bound by ethics, codes of conduct and policies to engage with all parents even if the actions of those parents are not in the best interest of the children, but it is the other parent who is left picking up the pieces and undoing the damage that has been done, both practically and emotionally.

chelen Fri 18-May-12 13:57:01

NADM I think the response to your question is also going to be of great interest to me, what do to support our kids when we know it is nowhere near bad enough for intervention, but it definitely isn't good? Yes, what do we do, those of us who are 'left picking up the pieces'? This is an issue for both resident parents and non-resident parents, what to do when the other person does not put the child first, will not communicate, does things that hurt the child.

Every book I read says 'engage with the other parent' - but what do we do when they won't engage?? 'Work together in the interests of your child' - but what about those of us stuck trying to work with people who won't work with us??

I feel none of the agencies are prepared to accept the reality - sometimes there aren't two equal parents - and consequently I know my DP and I have felt so alone because the only advice we ever get is that we must try harder to engage.

Reading the posts on this thread so far there are an awful lot of people who are struggling to co-parent (including me). I wish that parents who are not willing to collaborate could see objectivekly what this does to their children sad

Plumbuddle Fri 18-May-12 15:13:54

Hi Paula, I've done the step-parenting thing with my husband, the nrp, and the 3 stepkids are now all adult and not around much. They used to come fortnightly weekends and school hols until they were late teens, and then hardly at all. They are all now early 20s. We have 2 sons of our own, still at home. I am fond of 2 of the adult stepkids but disengaged from the eldest, who staged nasty adolescent scenes attempting to continue the birth mother's verbal abuse of both DH and me. I don't want her back in my life or that of my sons, she is too dishonest and manipulative. However that's hard on my DH who wants everyone to be one big happy family, something that both the SKs and I understand cannot happen. We can come together occasionally with respect, but they couldn't really live in my home long-term any more. DH and I have had a couple of rows lately over him wanting me to have a relationship with the eldest stepdaughter, and have her to live with us as a young adult, to the point that I think it is time for counselling or therapy for us as a couple going forward. I want a marriage counsellor who will help us to communicate and strengthen our marriage but not someone who will be coming from the philosophy that I should try to be a blended family with the stepkids. What agency would you recommend our going to? I don't want further guilt-tripping and pressure.

glasscompletelybroken Fri 18-May-12 16:03:46

When a pattern has been set for your step-family, how do you go about changing it?

My DH ex wouldn't allow me to do anything that could be interpreted as "mothering" for dsd's. She told them (they were 3 & 6 at the time) that I could only cook and clean for them and nothing else. That was 5 1/2 years ago. About 18 months ago she said she had been wrong to say that, but it's too late. The kids don't think they have to pay any attention to me and think I'm just here to do the housework. DH & I have fallen into a pattern of me doing all the housework while he plays with the kids - very nice for them - and it seems impossible to change things.

I have a lot of resentment for the way I have been portayed by DH exW to the kids and also for the fact that I am enabling DH to have loads of time for fun and games with his kids when I didn't have this with my kids. I have 4 (now grown-up) children and when they were little my exH worked very long hours, I did all the childcare and housework and didn't have the luxury of playing with the kids so much.

I don't blame my DH for how we got into this - it's complicated and was unavoidable - I just need help to either come to terms with it or change it.

If you end up in a situation where a stepchild will be left out of a family event, e.g. a holiday abroad or some other outing, because your partner's ex-spouse won't allow that child to attend, can you recommend an approach for breaking that news to the child, especially if the child is quite young?

Is it normally better for a child to hear the real truth in an age-appropriate fashion: "We want to take you with us, but your Mum has told us not this time," or is it usually better to leave out the details altogether: "Not this time; maybe another time" and let them work it out when they're older? In your experience, which approach is least likely to harm the kiddo? Understanding that you don't want your stepchild to feel as though they're not included in Dad's family, but also don't want to create bad blood between your stepchild and her mum.

Raspberrypip Fri 18-May-12 20:32:19

Hello Paula,
I am stepmother to two boys aged 11 and 12, and have been with their father since they were small. They are lovely boys, and live with their mother, but she has significant mental health issues (undiagnosed, but recognised by some professionals involved with the children). We are very worried about the damage she is doing to the children, and Social Services have some involvement but are not very helpful. We have some continuing and much valued support from Families Need Fathers, but it seems that unless their mother acts in an obviously damaging way there is little that my husband can do to protect his sons. It is enormously frustrating, and we don't know where to turn for help before time runs out and they are grown up and have mental and physical health issues of their own, caused by their mother. I have spoken to the NSPCC who agree that the situation is very concerning, but their recommendation was to refer to Social Services - which has been done by professionals, but with little positive effect. The children's school is also concerned. As a stepmother (with younger children of my own with my husband) I love my stepchildren, but feel I am powerless to help them, and don't know where to turn to for support for myself either.

StandOutFromTheCrowd Sat 19-May-12 19:24:29

Thank goodness that "blended families" will get some answers.
I have 2 sons aged 10 and 7 from previous relationship, who live with me and see father at weekend, and am now remarried, since Sept 10 and we have just had baby son.
1) Should my husband (their step dad) get involved in discipline and setting rules
2) I have no communication with my violent ex, we have to use a intermediary for handovers - any ideas for how to communicate about sons' health / school etc
3.) My ex has his own company and is affluent, but pays minimum amount through csa for maintenance, taking minimum wages and directors dividends / rent from 3 properties which are not included in the assessment. He does however buy lavish gifts for the boys when they go to visit every other week - ipad, ipod etc etc. They are not allowed to bring these home.
- I find it hard to motivate them with rewards because they will just get it for nothing when they visit their dad
- they expect things, and as my husband and I obviously cannot afford / think that it is not appropriate, the children play up - acting quite spoilt,
any ideas?
4) Any ideas on how to ensure that the family remains bonded, and the boys never feel left out to baby?

Many thanks

Curtain Sun 20-May-12 09:15:21

✨I'm a MN Man, separated with two girls of junior school age with a question for Paula:

How best does one introduce a new girlfriend to my children, what are the best tactics given the need to do it slowly, recognise and address any fears and wishes of the girls and find non-threatening ways to do it?


makeawishsm Sun 20-May-12 21:47:10

Hello Paula, Thanks for doing this. I'm pinning all my hopes on you having the magic answer so... no pressure grin

I'll try and be brief.

DH split fron his DD's mum when DD was seven (moved out at 8), she is now 13. We have been together for four years. We all rubbed along nicely for the first three years. DH was paying double the CSA advised amount of maintenance plus mobile phone, pocket money, laptop, half of uniform, school trips, othodontist work etc etc. Which everyone was fairly happy with because his ex didnt work (well, worked a small amount) and so she really pretty much needed the money to live. We had DSD here 50/50.

At the end of last year, ex got engaged, preganant by, and moved in with, her rather wealthy partner of three years at which point my partner said enough was enough with all the extras. I'm not sure and haven't asked exactly what his reasons were but I can gleen from our conversations that he no longer felt a responsibility to keep his ex (although clearly still wanted to support his dd), and also wanted to regain some rights over his own money and decide for himself if he wanted to spend money on things for his DD whilst she was here. He was also concerned (for good reason) that his DD saw him as a wallet and didn't want to continue sending that message. He dropped the CM to the reccommended amount (he has a good salary so this was no measly amount) and stopped paying for uniform etc. But continued to pay pocket money, mobile, laptop and orthodontist and assumed he would retain 50/50 contact.

At this point his ex had an all mighty melt down and said as he had made this choice he would no longer have their DD to stay here. Apparently she has always hated staying with her dad anyway and her mother was no longer going to sit back and have her DD miserable every time she came here.

There is a court order and DSD is happy here, (despite lots of missing mum and tears which would come on whenever her Mum called her here) the contact arrangement had always been in place and had worked well so we thought this wouldn't happen - we were wrong.

DSD sided 100% with her Mum, who shared with her all the gory details and embellished them to persuade DSD that her dad didnt love her anymore, has always been a shit dad etc etc.

Because of her age we have been told there is nothing we can do.

We now have DSD once a week on a Friday and every other saturday night but in reality this never happens properly as there is always a friend that has invited her to stay over. If she does stay here she inevitably brings a friend over so we/he don't really spend time with her. They've had a couple of "Daddy dates" which have gone fairly well). Her behaviour is awful, she has no respect for him or me, or anyone, and has even turned against my DD (5) who she has always called "sister" and has been extremely close to.

(Ironically the maintenance has gone back up to almost what it was anyway due to the tiny amount of time she is here i.e. no pro-rata. But this isn't about the money anymore)

sorry, I know I said I'd try to be brief!

Since this happened in December, I have done a lot of reading up on parental alienation and I have no doubt whatsoever that this is what has been occuring since they divorced (and possibly even during the marriage). It is a form of abuse and as far as I am concerned DSD has been subjected to it as a kind of grooming for a situation such as this. I wont go through everything because I'm sure you know what it is, but basically on any list of signs of parental alienation we could tick every single box with a very strong decisive hand!

So... my questions are:

1, Is parental alienation recognised by any mediators? Courts etc. that you are aware of? I'm not talking about the actual "Parental Alienation Syndrome" as a diagnosis for DSD, but more about the general behaviours of an alienating parent.

2, Is it 100% correct that her dad has no chance of winning back his contact time legally, due to DSD's age?

3, How can we support a rather unlikeable and extremely difficult DSD whilst retaining some kind of sanity and self respect?

4, How can I support my partner through this when he is extremely upset/ down/ stressed... but I am also very fragile over the whole thing?

5, What are the likely effects on my DD of her "sister's" behaviour?

6, Is there any point in DH trying to retain his rights as a parent and "parent" her when he does see her? Or should he forget it and leave that to her Mum now so as not to push her away even further?

I'm sorry Paula - what a long post blush

DRT Mon 21-May-12 12:05:52

Step parenting and blending 2 families is the hardest job I have ever faced. The year's go by and I struggle to find positive things to build a relationship with teenaged step kids with whom I have nothing in common. Are there any steps forward when they delight in lying, steeling from you and conducting a lifestyle which DH has no real issue with but you feel is heading for disaster that we may all be having to face the consequences from and you have your own children watching knowing you have different values and wanting to know what you are going to do about it? Life in a blended family is really tough for all of us and often results in sterile silences in what is supposed to be a home.

nongenderbias9 Mon 21-May-12 15:22:56

The words respect and tolerance spring to mind. There is no doubt that the family differences which exist in intact families are exacerbated by the parents splitting apart. The geographical separation and extra financial burden, not to mention the stress of enforced emotional separation can have serious detrimental consequences not only for the children but also society as a whole.

Debbylovely Mon 21-May-12 16:12:28

Hi Paula,
Thank the lord for this topic as I can really do with some advice right now. As a mum and a stepmum myself, I need advice on how to deal with the situation of my DH and DS, it was meant to be 50/50 between DH and his ex, that was the arrangement before I marry DH but my DS mum will not take responsibility as a result my DS is always with us even though DH bought her a house so DS could have a place to stay. She has not taken any responsibility as a mum, constantly calling to speak to DS even though she has been told to only call DS on his mobile phone but she still uses every excuse in this world to call my landline. Just to point out that they where never married so she is just an ex girlfriend! Whenever I bring up the issue of an arrangement of shared custody, DH is always angry and anytime I report an incident of DS to him, he behaves badly thinking am doing it just to make DS look bad. Our marriage is not even upto to a year and this issue is tearing us apart daily.
DH takes responsibility of everything for DS including paying a very high private tuition fees we can't afford even though his ex has got a good job. I am not working at the moment because my son his just over 3month. Half of DH salary goes towards DS school fees and other maintenance which we can't afford and we have to manage as a result. As if that is not enough, DS is constantly here. DS mum feels she can use DS to control DH all the time, I have my own son who is legitimate and I am tired of DH treating us as a second family.
I feel really sad and upset about the whole issue and don't know what to do please advice me.
Thank you

origamirose Mon 21-May-12 18:58:34

I have some very specific questions.
My DP and I are planning a week's holiday, just the two of us, this summer. My questions are:
- is this unfair on his two children? (should we always take them)?
- how can we prepare the children for this, I know that they will be very jealous?

The background is as follows:

DP has 2 children, I have a very good relationship with both of them and in that respect we are lucky. I have no children. We see DP's children 35% of nights - EOW, one night a week and about half the holidays (as well as ad-hoc).

DP has a hugely demanding job which involves a lot of european travel during the week. His ex-wife is very demanding and if I'm honest I am resentful of her (she doesn't work, lives off generous spousal maintenance, is unpleasant about me and DP to the children and is generally difficult and demanding).

Our relationship is under strain due to his work and his ex (we are doing counselling which is working well) - I've said that I would like to go away for a week just the two of us so that we can focus on us - DP is reluctant because he is concerned about the children's reaction.

We have taken the children o'seas twice in the past 12 months and will be going away for 2 weeks with them in August.

I don't mean to give too much info but hopefully that background will help you to answer the specifics - which I think will be applicable to other step families.

Thank you.

XEDing Mon 21-May-12 22:19:45

I have been seeing my DP for a year, we are very much in love, and I am looking forward to spending some family time with him and his DDs and developing a relationship with them. The oldest DD is 7 and the youngest is 8 months.

However, DP has not yet left his wife, and one of the reasons he tells me is that he is afraid his wife will be obstructive and controlling over his contact with the DDs. She is apparently insisting that he sees them without me being present, which will make things very difficult for us as we intend to live together. So he would have to go to their house (which I'm not happy about), or take them out somewhere, or he would have to rent somewhere separate just for the sake of contact. Even if he does that, she says the baby is too young for overnight contact, yet she doesn't want him to take the older ones overnight without the baby because then it's not fair. She wants "little and often" for all of them instead, which to be honest is very inconvenient for DP in terms of travel.

I think that she is being spiteful and trying to cut me out of their lives. I have already met the oldest for a day (pretending to be just a friend of DP), and we got on really well, but her mum apparently went ballistic when she found out (not in front of the DD, thankfully). I don't have any kids of my own, but think I would make a good mum and DP agrees. I think the DDs will end up happy once their dad is happier, and I believe our relationship will make him happy.

As far as I know, the DDs have not yet been told that their dad will be leaving. But the atmosphere at their house is apparently very tense, and I think they will be happier when he has left, as long as he gets to spend time with them.

How can we get their mum to see sense and accept that I'm going to be an important part of their lives, whether she likes it or not? And what rights do we have to enforce the contact that we think is appropriate?

brdgrl Tue 22-May-12 09:27:58

Lots of questions on this thread, and on the board generally, about issues with co-parenting and ex-spouses. I find that as a stepmum to children whose mother is deceased, while facing some issues in common with stepmums-thru-divorce (sorry, don't know right way to put that!), there are also some differences. People also seem to have different expectations of me as a stepmum. I wonder if you could address this - I don't have a specific question, but would like to hear your thoughts on whether there is a difference in the "rules" for steps-thru-death versus steps-thru-divorce!

It is no secret that stepmums take a lot of lumps - in society and on these boards. ALong with that, I have seen (towards myself and other posters) a sort of 'one size fits all' approach (most often from women who haven't experienced the reality) - I am profoundly aware of this, because my situation often is treated as an "exception". (Personally, I think there are so many variations in family circumstances that the "exceptions" are practically the rule!)

smilingthroughgrittedteeth Tue 22-May-12 09:30:25

Hi Paula

I've been with my DP for 4yrs, he has 2 children aged 8yrs and 13yrs, his ex is very manipulative and uses the children to hurt my DP whenever she can, she has with held contact before and even took the children and disappeared for months (she continues to threaten to do this again on a regular basis). Until recently she insisted that I had nothing to do with the children and when my DP had them he would move out of our home and stay at his parents with them, thankfully this is now sorted and I have started to build a good relationship with my DSC and they now stay in our home with us, they live in a different part of the country to us so visitation is 1 weekend a month, all half terms and half the summer holidays, which means they are always here for an extended amount of time rather than the odd night. I'm a nanny so my views on raising children can often be different from my partners but we discuss issues and work out the best way to deal with things, which means we have a united front where the children are concerned and have a fairly harmonious home life BUT we have a problem that I am at a loss as to what to do sad

I recently started to receive nasty phone calls really horrible threats to cut my throat and burn me from a male voice, I'm quite a forthright person so the first time I just laughed and hung up thinking it was a random call but they continued and got nastier and nastier, I phoned the police who traced the number to a pay as you go mobile number that came from the village next to where DP's ex lives, we think it may be her new boyfriend and have worked out that the calls start a day or two after the children have returned home, continue for a week or so then stop till the next visit, it is difficult for me to change numbers as my number is well known by lots of people because of work and even if I did change googling me would bring up my new number, I'm not worried about my safety I genuinly think it is just a pathetic way of winding my DP up but how do I handle this, if I allow the police to take it further (it will soon be out of my hands anyway if it doesn't stop) it will have a massive impact on the children, DP wants to speak to ex but she will deny any knowledge and kick off, stopping contact and despite the fact that I am not scared or worried I am finding the whole thing stressful and am not sleeping properly.

I think the issue may be that she doesn't like hearing the children talk about how much fun they have had and hates that they like me, I can understand this to some degree but I don't go out of my way to do things that will upset her, I am very clear that I am not trying to be 'mum' and the children are happy to enjoy our time together as friends, my DP works nights so there are times when I am left with childcare duties and we do, do fun things because a lot of my friends have children that we meet up with and they occasionally have to come to work with me where I obviously am doing fun things with the children I look after.

How do I handle this in a way that will protect the children, is talking to the ex a good idea and if so what exactly do we say? Do I stop doing things with the DSC so that they are not reporting back to her? If the police do take it further how do I support the children and protect the relationship we have so that they don't blame me or DP for any fallout?

Any advice welcome

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 22-May-12 11:24:43

This Q&A is now closed and we're sending a selection of questions over to Paula Hall and relate. We'll be linking from this thread to the archived Q&A before the end of May.

KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 24-May-12 15:38:43

Hello folks - we hope to have Paula's answers back to you early next week.

We'd be so grateful if you could then fill out this survey to let us know what you thought, and help us ensure that future Q&As and support sessions are really useful.

Many thanks


midwife99 Fri 25-May-12 22:47:08

XEDing. Your "partner" has an 8 month baby & has been seeing you a year?! He still lives with his wife & children. And you can't understand why his wife is upset & doesn't want to hand her baby over to you?! You met her DD & pretended to be a friend. WTF!! What on earth do you think you are doing?! This is a family you are splitting up (by no means letting him off the hook either)! How very dare you! angry

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 29-May-12 14:49:43

The answers are now back and you can read the Q&A here:

Q&A about step-parenting with Relate

Once you've had chance to read the Q&A, it would be really helpful if you can fill out this survey to let us know what you thought. We're keen for feedback on these Q&A sessions, so we can ensure we get the most out of future Q&As and support sessions.

brightonlights Tue 29-May-12 15:38:11

Some strange advice on there in my opinion...

what brighton said....

Maybe we should send the 'open and honest' bit to DSDs Mum though grin

brightonlights Tue 29-May-12 22:01:36

Oh absolutely! The open and honest stuff was great but in my opinion it was all coming from the point of view of a normal set up where both parents had the child's best interests at heart. The advice about what to do when a child says they want to live with the other parent was bizarre.

allnewtaketwo Tue 29-May-12 22:37:13

I thought some of the advice was very bizarre. For example the bit where an NRP should tell the child the PWC is right about denying access I don't agree with at all.

NotaDisneyMum Tue 29-May-12 23:03:38

I think that for the majority of situations, Paula's advice is sound and will help resolve initial issues around blending and step families.

The problem is, most of us on this board have found our way here because the usual advice hasn't worked - we are a collective of the minority, desperately seeking 'the next chapter' of the self-help book, and the answer to our 'now what?' questions.
Many of us have tried most, if not all, of the recommended techniques and strategies, we've read the books, attended counselling, mediation, workshops - you name it, we've done it - but we are still seeking that gem of wisdom that will finally lead to a breakthrough.

We are trying to negotiate with people who have no time, respect or understanding of expert opinion unless it coincides with their own. Their confident belief that only they know what is right for their own DCs is, fortunately, rare - but there is little in the way of support available for those of us who are trying to co-parent with someone like this sad

brdgrl Tue 29-May-12 23:13:04

Exactly! I was really disappointed - and disappointed in both the selection of questions answered (not just because they didn't pick mine, either!) and the depth of the answers given.

Guess I was hoping for something more than the 'first blush' response. Like NADM says - we're all here because the simple answers don't apply or haven't worked. Of course there is no magic bullet and even an expert counselour can only do so much in this kind of forum - but yes, I am a bit disappointed.

AmberLeaf Wed 30-May-12 00:30:55

XEDing erm....it appears that you are having an affair with a married man. (That began when his wife was 5 months pregnant!)

Think you are in need of a reality check love.

brightonlights Wed 30-May-12 06:42:59

I guess as I said in my question (which didn't get asked, grumble grumble) I wanted the magic answer... Which of course set me up for disappointment smile

CC2B Wed 30-May-12 19:00:52

Well my message did get a response, which was useful to some extent. However, the edited version of my message that Paula seemed to get didn't set the context well. I think the advice that EOW and a night a week is about right for a 3 year old will have been interpreted incorrectly as the situation is actually that they are only here from Sat morning - Sun evening and for 1 1/2 hours on a Thursday night. Two nights a month with the NRP doesn't seem right for even a three year old, never mind a seven year old. Shame about the editing...

Peegee1 Thu 05-Jul-12 10:16:18

I met my HB almost 18 years ago he was married and had 2 small children. I was 22 he was 30 and in an unhappy marriage of 13 years. I don't feel great about our beginnings but if it hadn't been me it would have been someone else, we fell in love and are still very much in love. We spent our every weekend with his children, I looked after them mainly as we were setting up business which took up many hours. Although we had many holidays and times together his ex-wife clearly bitter (and still is) but never really said much often used the son as her pawn. Often we were unable to pick him up "because he didnt want to come with us" In hindsight I would have insisted as the father and son relationship is very detatched now. Our own children came along, my weekends were busy with 4 children and I often had HB two over holiday periods while mum worked. The business was sucessful and we paid for the children to go to private school, and still pay maintenance, step children were never encouraged by mum to be close, no cards, birthday presents for siblings etc, our relationship has always been one way, give give give which is fine if your getting something out f it. All we wanted was to be happy. They are 19 and 22 now we generally see them at birthdays and christmas, Im always polite when I see them but the dissapointment and bitterness I feel seems to be increasing. My HB has just paid for his daughter to stay on at uni to finish her dissertation until September (most students come home to do), she just takes the mickey constantly, books holidays and cant pay! I cant tell my husband, he can't buy his childrens affection. It has become very waring over the years, caused lots of arguments, who am I, unless you can put up and shut up, step parenting is not a good thing. For all the time love and energy I have given up, I feel nothing but bitterness and hurt and a husband who will never and should never give up on his children. I feel the ex has won her battle in her quiet little way. I feel depleated, If only I had my life over again .....

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