Monday, March 28, 2016

Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex - Book Review

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This book has really opened my eyes to see where the ex-spouse may be coming from and also showed me what the children are going through when a parent is toxic.  In my own situation, it has helped me learn how to handle my stepchildren better. Helped me understand why they do and say the things they do.  This book is a big eye opener and has helped me to discover healthy parent strategies to overcome the hard times with my stepchildren.  Who are constantly facing extreme loyalty conflicts thanks to their mother who has successfully poisoned my stepchildren against me and my husband.
If you have gone through or are going through a messy divorce, sometimes the other parent will try to undermine the relationship you have with your children. This book will show you how to be a positive parent, gives great parent strategies and coping methods for a hostile ex-spouse.  In this book, you will learn how to avoid parental alienation and techniques on how to relate and talk to your children.
This book discusses five behaviors that co-parents use to induce loyalty conflict.  Those five behaviors are:
1. Sending Poisonous Messages about you
2. Interfering with Contact & Communication
3. Erasing & Replacing
4. Encouraging your Child to Betray your Trust
5. Undermining Your Authority and Fostering Dependency in your Child


It also goes over watching for the signs that your children are caught up in a loyalty conflict. The book helps you by giving you the right tools in how not to make mistakes when you are co-parenting with a toxic ex-spouse.
You will discover ways of how to become a positive parent even though you have a toxic ex-spouse to deal with.  There are core concepts of positive parenting and this book lays out great ways and how to accomplish that.  There are eight parent strategies that will help you deepen your bond with children that are going through hard loyalty conflicts due to your ex-spouse poisoning them against you.
Eight Parent Strategies:

1. Active Listening When your child is talking to you, nod and acknowledge that you are listening to them. Another way to acknowledge that you are listening to them is giving nonverbal cues and then use words to show you are listening to them for an example “I see” or “go on” then recite what they said to show that you understand them.  Active listening also involves asking questions about what they told you and then lastly offering to problem solve it.  However, not everything needs to be solved or fixed; they might just need someone to talk too.
2. Nondirective Attention 
Give them your undivided attention which means, no distractions when they are talking to you.  That means put down the cell phone or turn off of the TV to show them that they have your undivided attention.  As Amy Baker co-author of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex states that when you engage in nondirective attention, you’re as fully present as possible, but your child runs the show.  Try to show your child nondirective attention a little every day, because it really shows the child that you are interested in what they have to say and it also makes them feel important.
3. Praise & Encouragement 
Try to find ways to encourage them.  Then find ways to praise them whenever they do something right.  Give them positive attention like hugs, smiles and words of admiration.
4. Emotion Coaching Anytime you feel an emotion talk about it with your child and label that emotion that way the child learns from your example and then will start to label their own emotions when they have them.  Try to always validate your child’s feelings when they are expressed.  Make sure they know it’s okay to have those feelings.  An example of a validation is saying “It’s okay to feel that way right now. I would feel that way too if it happened to me too.” Model how to cope with their feelings of emotions.  Always encourage them to label what kind of emotion they are feeling.
5. Training 
Sometimes our children need to be trained on how to do something that is required of them to do.  It could be a really hard adjustment when they don’t know how to do something and are afraid to ask for help.
6. Inviting Cooperation 
Providing an invitation to help out with something might be a great way of getting them to help out more with things without having to ask them directly.  For example: “If anyone wants to help me make dinner, feel free to come join me now.”  It’s a different way of asking for help and it might work with some children.
7. Offering Choices 
Instead of saying no to a request they made try to offer the child reasonable choices that you would like.  For example: instead of asking “Do you want to take a shower”, ask this instead: “Do you want to take a shower before or after dinner”.  If there is something your child must do but you don’t want to hear them say No to it, offer a choice in the question of it leading to doing the task you want them to do anyways.
8. Family Meetings When children are having a hard time adjusting to things within a blended family.  It’s good to have family meetings about things.  Every new blended family should be having family meetings in order to help adjust to the family dynamic.  As Amy Baker co-author of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex states that having family meetings help build family cohesion which helps strengthen family bonds and prevent conflicts and discord.  To learn more about family meetings and how to create them, click here.

The book also helps you develop and create great disciplinary strategies that involve healthy consequences that deal with the “Four R’s”.  The Four R’s are Related, Reasonable, Revealed and Respectful.  Overall it has been said by Amy Baker and Paul Fine that the stronger the bond of love between you and your child, the less susceptible your child will be to your ex’s undermining and interference.
Another concept I took away from this book is how to learn to use positive self-talk when dealing with difficult acquisitions or conversations with the children.  I learned that my thoughts can defeat and paralyze me if I don’t be careful.  I learned to let go of the negative self-talk and learned how to develop positive self-talk.
Overall, I just can’t say enough great things about this book.  If you have a toxic ex-spouse, this book is a Must Read.  I wish I would have read this book sooner because it would have helped us more early on when we really needed the help the most.  There’s a lot to be learned in this book that will help you get through the hard times with your stepchildren or biological children who are going through hard loyalty conflicts due to a toxic ex-spouse.  Your time with your children is going by fast; learn how to overcome this struggle before you live with regret. I live with a lot of regrets after reading this book, wishing I would have read it a lot sooner.  After everything, we have already been through with my stepchildren and their biological mother.  Don’t live with regret, read this book now and learn how to make a difference in your children’s lives, learn how to deepen your bond with them and help them overcome being stuck in the middle.

If your stepchildren or biological children went through loyalty conflicts, how did you handle it?


References:
Amy L. Baker & Paul R. Fine (2014). Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex. What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You. New Harbinger Publications.

Monday, March 21, 2016

10 Things Stepkids Want & Need to Hear

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Here are the top ten things every stepchild would love to hear from their Stepmom or Stepparent. When you do say these things, make sure that you mean what you say and say what you mean.  Always look for opportunities to use affirming words to your stepchildren.  Using affirming words with them makes them feel loved and admired by you. Before you do say one of these things, make sure you do it in a quiet place where there's no one else around. It makes the moment feel more sincere, special, important and more meaningful.


Here are the Top 10 Things every Stepkid would want and need to hear from you:

1. “I will never try to take your mother’s place.”
A lot of stepkids are going through loyalty conflicts, it really helps when you say this to them. It helps take the pressure off of them.

2. “You matter to me and you are important to me.”

Even though you do feel this, way they need to verbally hear this from you.

3. “I love you no matter what you do or say to me.”

Sometimes stepchildren think that because you got upset with them that you don't love them anymore.

4. “I will never get in the way of you spending time with your Dad.”

Stepchildren often feel like you are taking their Father away from them and that they don't get to spend time with just him. 

5. “I will never make you choose between me and your mother.”
This makes them realize that it is okay to love both their mother and their stepmom. That it is okay if they chose their mother over you, that you understand it.

6. “I will always be here for you when you need someone to talk too.”
This will help them realize that you are there for them if they need to someone and they are not comfortable talking to their Father about something.

7. “I will always have your best interests in mind.”

This will show them that any advice you give to them is for their own benefit and only to help them.

8. “I will always encourage your Dad to spend quality time with just you, without me around.”

Saying this shows that you will always try to make sure they get 1:1 time with their Dad.

9. “I may not always like or agree with the choices you make, but I will always care about you.”

This shows them that it's okay if you make a choice that you might not agree with, doesn't mean that you will care for them less.

10. “I’m sorry…. I made a mistake or hurt your feelings.”

Apologizing and owning up to a mistake you make with them, shows them you are not perfect and it's okay to make mistakes sometimes, everyone makes them.


Saying these things above will not only help the stepchildren feel close to you, it will earn their trust and love from saying these things to them. Another way to really show what you say to be truth is to spend time with them 1:1, take them somewhere special and get to know them. Because saying these things is just not enough, you need to show them that they are important to you.  The way you do that is by investing time with them. Words are just words if you don’t show it by what you do with them.  Like for example, if their Mother’s birthday is coming up, to show them that you’re not having them choose you over their mother, take them out shopping to pick out a gift for their mother.  Spending time with your stepchildren by doing something they would enjoy a lot will go a long way with them.  It will create childhood memories with you, which they can one day look back on as they become adults.  Take advantage of their childhood and create memories that will stick and last with them.
It’s so important to tell them what they would like to hear but only do it if you feel that way for them. They will be able to tell if you’re just acting it out or if you really mean what you say.  So, mean what you say and say what you mean, they will respect it and it will create a close relationship with your stepchildren.

Have you ever said any of these top 10 things to your stepchild yet? If so, how did it go?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hard Adjustments


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When you first come into a relationship with a man with children it is going to be hard for the children.  They may not like you right away and the reason being is that in their minds they were hoping that their parents would get back together and having you (the stepmom) in the picture put an end to that.  They also have a hard time because of their loyalty to their mother. It’s even harder if the biological mother is bitter about the divorce or separation and doesn’t get along with your spouse to begin with.  Often times the biological mother will put thoughts into the children’s minds that are negative. For example:  “Don’t listen to her, she’s not your Mom” “She took your Dad away from me”, “She’s the reason why I and your Dad are not together”, etc.  Sometimes the children will have a hard time getting adjusted if they moved to a new home. They even have a hard time when there are other children in the picture.  Everything takes time to get adjusted.  The timing for this is different with every child.  Some children take longer than other children do.  Having children go through a divorce is hard enough then you add a remarriage into it, it makes it even harder for children.  One thing I do recommend doing right after you move in together is established House Rules and Consequences if those rules are broken.  Every child needs structure it teaches them respect and responsibility for their actions.  To learn more about how to create House Rules, click here.
Then after House Rules are created, I suggest creating a chores chart especially if the stepchildren are living with you 50% of the time or more.  To learn more about setting up chores, click here.
Another hard adjustment for the stepchildren is having step-siblings.  It’s going to be hard at times for all of them to get along and that is why establishing House Rules will help.  Just expect that all of the children will not get along that way when they do have issues you will not take it so hard.  When they do get along praise it and make a big deal out of it.  Sharing toys with one another is going to be the hardest thing for all of them to do especially if there was only one child. So expect there to be a few bumps in the road especially during the first five years of a blended family.  Just remember it’s how you handle the bumps in the road is how you’re going to be able to recover.  You can’t expect everyone to all get along all of the time.  You have to remember that your stepchildren also take after their biological mother and that your children also take after their biological father, so when you put all of those personalities together, they are bound to not see eye to eye on a few things every now and then.
If you notice a lot of bad behavior from one child versus the other children, they may be lacking attention from their biological parent.  They may need more undivided attention from their biological parent.  Make sure the child is getting enough 1:1 time with their biological parent, you will see their behavior improve once they are getting that attention and love they need.
I found eight ways of helping your children adjust to hard adjustments through reading the book called: Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex. I hope these eight ways help you with your children.

Be an Active Listener. When your child is talking to you, nod and acknowledge that you are listening to them. Another way to acknowledge that you are listening to them is giving nonverbal cues and then use words to show you are listening to them for an example “I see” or “go on” then recite what they said to show that you understand them.  Active listening also involves asking questions about what they told you and then lastly offering to problem solve it.  However, not everything needs to be solved or fixed; they might just need someone to talk too.
Give Encouragement and Praise.  Try to find ways to encourage them.  Then find ways to praise them whenever they do something right.  Give them positive attention like hugs, smiles and words of admiration.
Use Nondirective Attention.  Give them your undivided attention which means, no distractions when they are talking to you.  That means put down the cell phone or turn off of the TV to show them that they have your undivided attention.  As Amy Baker co-author of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex states that when you engage in nondirective attention, you’re as fully present as possible, but your child runs the show.  Try to show your child nondirective attention a little every day, because it really shows the child that you are interested in what they have to say and it also makes them feel important.
Give Emotional Coaching. Anytime you feel an emotion talk about it with your child and label that emotion that way the child learns from your example and then will start to label their own emotions when they have them.  Try to always validate your child’s feelings when they are expressed.  Make sure they know it’s okay to have those feelings.  An example of a validation is saying “It’s okay to feel that way right now. I would feel that way to if it happened to me too.” Model how to cope with their feelings of emotions.  Always encourage them to label what kind of emotion they are feeling.
Give Training. Sometimes our children need to be trained on how to do something that is required of them to do.  It could be a really hard adjustment when they don’t know how to do something and are afraid to ask for help.
Offer Choices.  Instead of saying no to a request they made try to offer the child reasonable choices that you would like.  For example: instead of asking “Do you want to take a shower”, ask this instead: “Do you want to take a shower before or after dinner”.  If there is something your child must do but you don’t want to hear them say No to it, offer a choice in the question with it leading to doing the task you want them to do anyways.
Offer Inviting Cooperation.  Providing an invitation to help out with something might be a great way of getting them to help out more with things without having to ask them directly.  For example: “If anyone wants to help me make dinner, feel free to come join me now.”  It’s a different way of asking for help and it might work with some children.
Hold Family Meetings.  When children are having a hard time adjusting to things within a blended family.  It’s good to have family meetings about things.  Every new blended family should be having family meetings in order to help adjust to the family dynamic.  As Amy Baker co-author of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex states that having family meetings help build family cohesion which helps strengthen family bonds and prevent conflicts and discord.  To learn more about family meetings and how to create them, click here.
A great way to parent that will help get through hard adjustments is to enhance your relationship with your children and to always keep the communication open, engage in active listening, always give them a lot of praise and encouragement, always invite cooperation, offer choices to them, give emotional coaching to them when they need it.  Children really want to feel like they are being heard, understood and valued.  Always try to encourage your child to speak their mind with you and always try to listen to what they are saying. You don’t have to do what they say, but just listen to what they may be feeling at that moment and somehow work through those feelings with them.  Sometimes they don’t need something fixed, they just want to be able to vent and pour out their feelings to someone.  Sometimes they just need you to listen, show care and just be present with them, so that they will feel like they are being understood and heard.  Being a child in a blended family can be very difficult especially if they feel like they have no one to talk too. Having an open door policy with your children will help ease the hard adjustments they may be feeling and will help them adjust to your blended family better.
What ways have you found help children get through hard adjustments?

References:Amy J.L. Baker & Paul R. Fine (2014). Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex. What to do when your ex-spouse tries to turn the kids against you. New Harbinger Publications., Inc.

Friday, March 4, 2016

First Steps

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You’re now a new Blended Family.  What do we need to do first to make this blended family a successful and loving one? Here are some important key steps to help you get started in the right direction. I am not going to number them because every new blended family can start at any one of these steps to help be a successful one.

Kid Weekends. When you first come together, make sure to schedule your kid weekends on the same weekends, if you have to switch things around with an ex-spouse, do it. That way you can have some kidless weekends where you can have time for one another without the children.  Having the children on the same weekends helps the children bond more and also helps with becoming a better-blended family.

Money Matters. Money is a difficult topic no matter what, but even harder in a blended family.  In a blended family commitment, trust, and the guarantee of permanence can be underlying issues when dealing with money.  It can be difficult to put together the best way to manage money in a blended family.  It’s very important when combining incomes that you discuss where the money goes and how it is spent and on what. Learn the different ways on how to manage the finances and whether you want to have separate or joint bank accounts.  To learn about the many ways to manage money, click here.
Establish Boundaries. Setting boundaries is important, it teaches everyone to honor one another, to respect privacy and values each family member. Setting boundaries are not just for your stepchildren but also for the ex-spouses as well.  Boundaries for the ex-spouses can be only contacting when it is related to the children. For example: Not having the ex-spouse call you when they need to talk about a recent breakup or when they need someone to fix the garage door.  The ex-spouse needs to rely on someone else to do those things; it isn’t your spouse’s job anymore. As for the children, an example of establishing boundaries could be about them sleeping in their own bedrooms and not sharing a bed with you.  For more on boundaries, click here.

Discipline with Children.  Before you move in together, you need to talk about discipline and how you will handle it with the children.  In the first few years of marriage, I strongly suggest that each parent is responsible for disciplining their biological children. To find out why it’s important to handle discipline this way, click here.
Family Meetings.  Now that you are a blended family or living together under one roof and brought each other’s children into the marriage, you need to hold family meetings. You need to have family meetings to go over things such as house rules, chores, conflicts, or talk about upcoming vacations and events.  In the beginning, you want to have these family meetings at least once a month. To learn more about family meetings and how to facilitate them, click here.

House Rules & Consequences. Establishing house rules help provide children with structure and teach them how to have & show respect and responsibility. Both parents should establish these together and agree on them before presenting it to the children. To learn more about house rules and for an example of them, click here.
Chore Chart. Every family should have chores whether the family is a biological family or a blended one. Establishing age appropriate chore chart helps children learn life skills that they will need when they become adults and move out on their own.  To learn more about it and see examples of age appropriate chores, click here.

Blended Family Therapy. Find out the benefits to seeking therapy early on in your marriage and how it would really help prepare you for the challenging situations and conflicts that will happen.  It’s not a matter of “if they will happen”, it’s a matter of “when they will happen” and how both of you can better prepare yourselves for when they do happen. To learn more about therapy and why it’s important to go, click here.
Schedule Family Fun Nights/Days.  Depending on when you have all of the children together you need to establish family fun activities to help bring you close as a family. It’s good to always set a day to do it and always try to keep it scheduled for that day so they can expect it every time they are with you.  Like, for example, set it on a Saturday, where every Saturday or every other Saturday you do something as a family. To learn more ideas on how to do this, please see The Fun Box and the Fun with Children posts.

Schedule 1:1 Time with Children.  It’s very important that you encourage your husbands to spend 1:1 time with their children during their weekend visits. It doesn’t have to be an all-day thing either; I recommend it, at least, being two hours. This way the children feel like they still have their Dads undivided attention and don’t feel like their Stepmom took their Dad away from them.  While your husbands are having that time with their children, you can also do the same with your children too.
Optional – Even doing 1:1 things between the Stepparent and Stepchild could also help strengthen relationships too. To learn more about the benefits of 1:1 time, click here.
Date Night Out.  It’s so important that you put your spouse first in your marriage. It is important that you don't loose touch with yourselves as a couple.  You need to go on dates with just the two of you without the children once a week or at least twice a month if possible. It will help strengthen your marriage and keep you both feeling connected with one another as a couple.  To learn more about date nights, click here.

Family Traditions. Make sure you discuss what traditions you have as a family and combine them.  Don't stop the traditions you currently do with your children, find a way to incorporate each others traditions into the family. Create new traditions as a blended family.  For example, each year around Christmas time, going to a soup kitchen place and serving out meals to the homeless as a family. Another good example is each year on Thanksgiving Day, that everyone go around the dinner table naming, at least, one thing they are thankful for.
Church & Religion. Talk and discuss attending church and how often you want to attend church as a family. Also, talk about whether you want to have family bible studies and family devotions together and how you want to teach your children about God. "Do all that you can to take your kids by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master." Ephesians 6:4.

Document Everything. If you have a difficult ex-spouse learn to document everything you do for them, changes in visitation, any requests made such as picking up the children from school when they are sick because an ex-spouse cannot do it. When an ex-spouse is difficult to communicate with only communicate with them through email or text messages that way there is a paper trail just in case; you go to court. To learn more about why it's good to document things, click here.

Educate Yourself. Pick up, at least, five books on blended family topics and read the books. The books will help get you ready for any challenging situations you may face whether it may be a toxic ex-spouse, being a stepmom, dealing with difficult teenagers or learning how to co-parent. There are books out there that will help your blended family become more successful. Here are some books that I have read that will help you, click here.
Find and Join a Support Group.  Look for a group for Stepmoms and one for Stepdads where you can go ask questions, get advice, and encouragement when you need it.  And believe me; you will need it from time to time.  Don’t do this journey alone. Talking with other Stepparents will really help you become a successful blended family. There is a closed group on Facebook just for Stepmoms called: Stepmoms Are Us, come check it out and request to become a member, you will be glad you did.

I hope these steps help you become a successful blended family.  There is, even more, to learn on what to expect when expecting to become a blended family, click here.

Is there any other First Steps you recommend to add to this list that may help new blended families out?