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

(55 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.



MsIngaFewmarbles Fri 18-May-12 14:08:26

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.

ProbablyJustGas Fri 18-May-12 16:54:50

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...

MsIngaFewmarbles Tue 29-May-12 21:46:46

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.

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