This webpage is: http://www.thelizlibrary.org/child-centered-divorce/teenagers-changing-custody.html
IN THE TEENAGE YEARS -- FOR WHOSE BENEFIT?
A stepmother writes:
I am both a mother
and step-mother. I have a great (going on
9 year) relationship with my 13-year-old stepson.
If you could write a parenting plan which delegates residential time
during the school year, what would it look like?
Right now our family sees the child two weekends a month, but would
like to spend more time (Dad/Son YMCA B-ball, helping with homework, family
dinners, etc.) The households are about 35 minutes
apart, neither parent "bashes" the other, and both parents are
remarried with multiple children...
The boy's mother wants to keep the schedule as it has been [for the past 8 years]. We would
like to add in one or two mid-week after-school visits, and extend the
weekends to start on Thursday after school and last until drop off at school Monday morning.
Whether a schedule is reasonable is going to depend on the answers to
some questions. This is a child going into high school soon. How
he does there can affect the entire course of the rest of his life.
What does the child want? How is the increased visitation time going to be in the child's interests?
How is the child doing academically, and in
his sports, and extracurricular activities, and how will this proposed change facilitate any of that?
For a teenager, "time" with parents as well as with young
half-siblings is not as important as his maximizing academic
and extracurricular achievements, developing peer relationships, and perhaps
getting a part time job. For academic achievement,
as classes and his own schedule become more complicated, he is going to
need more independence, less interference with his life from family
demands, and more flexibility from his parents.
It appears that both parents have prioritized their own wants, including
new children and relationships ahead of the child's familial stability.
Family transitions, remarriages and divorces, and new half-siblings, all put
existing children at risk.
Direct-from-school transitions and Monday morning drop-offs to school
are unreasonable for an older child who would be required not only to keep
track of his own activities and homework, but also to pack and
prepare on Wednesday night or Thursday morning for what he will need from
home for an entire weekend through to the following Monday at school. It's
too much. The school transition thing is not only unnecessary but detrimental. It is especially disruptive for children
in schools that have Friday testing, or projects due on Fridays.
The child needs down time and organization time from one consistent base
For a teenager, you would do far better to try for more cooperation
and flexibility, than a set schedule. He's 13 now, but within two years
there is going to be a huge developmental change (it varies by child but
will be starting if not well underway or nearly completed), and he will
be a young man with his own life, not a child.
It is unreasonable to schedule after-school visits that will interfere with homework,
extracurricular activities, future part time jobs, and the teenager's
social life. An adolescent does not need mid-week visits to bond with
family. He needs to be deciding for himself what his after-school activities
will be, and using his free time to participate in sports, clubs, social life and community
activities. It's one thing if there's a special reason for him to come
over for a visit (e.g. out of town relatives visiting, or a sibling's birthday
party.) Otherwise, he needs to be doing his homework
first. And at this age, he should NOT be doing it on a regular basis with
his parents' involvement. The adolescent also needs the option,
unscheduled, to stay late at school for sports and clubs (and
he should be encouraged in these activities.)
The child should be permitted to decide for himself when he is going
to add in extra visits. If he wants to come over occasionally after school,
then he should be permitted to do so
as he wants to, and then be given a lift home later, early enough that
it doesn't interfere with his schoolwork, his sleep (teenage boys need a LOT of sleep because physical growth occurs during sleep time), and
getting ready for the next day. Similarly, if he feels like coming over on an extra Sunday or
weekend, and has the time, then his mother should allow that. Additionally,
his father should be striving to support, attend and be involved in the boy's school and sporting
events, and encouraging his achievement, leadership skills, and independence. There should be open and flexible telephone and email communications
between the father and son.
Finally, the child certainly doesn't need litigation at this point in his life stressing and distracting
him and his parents and wasting money.
Adolescence is the time when teenagers should be permitted to be focused on themselves. Moving from child to adult is
not an easy transition. The teenager does not require -- or benefit from --
mid-week scheduled visits, or specific times delineated in a "parenting plan" to be spent
with family members in order to have
relationships with them. Those relationships should be a given
at this point, but even if they are not, good or bad or in-between, they are what they are.
their energies toward personal achievement: getting good grades, developing themselves,
learning to prioritize their own time and make their own decisions,
enlarging their social spheres in the world, preparing for college,
and becoming comfortable with less dependency
on parents. This does not mean that teenagers do not need their parents, but they do need their parents
to start becoming supportive of them in a very different way from when they were younger.
Do the right thing and put the adolescent, and his next four or five years ahead
of what you want. To reiterate: how this child does, in large part on his own,
over the next few years will determine his
academic success, the interests he develops,
his social poise, autonomy and self-direction, and what colleges and future options he
will have as a young adult.
WHY DO STEPMOTHERS SO OFTEN SEEK
CUSTODY OF THEIR HUSBAND'S PRIOR CHILDREN?
Of significance, and unsurprisingly, the above stepmother's
inquiry contained no comments at all about what the 13-year-old
boy wanted or needed, or how he ostensibly would benefit from increased timeshare with the father's new family.
I also noted that, as is common, the stepmother, and not the father, was
these issues. I also noted that this stepmother has one or more
of her own children. No matter how supposedly terrific her "relationship" with her stepchild is,
it is extremely unlikely that those feelings come close to how she feels about the children to whom she gave birth.
I strongly suspect that her motives include
one or more of the following reasons that stepmothers push for custody of stepchildren, even though,
were they to be honest, most stepmothers, especially if they have their own children, don't want his children, and
really would rather not have responsibility for his children. The reasons stepmothers (and some girlfriends) do this are:
(1) Maintaining the exclusivity of her husband's
familial interests and affections toward her, and by extension, "her" family. This gives rise to the common
emotional need to redefine the stepchild as belonging to the stepmother, i.e. "ours", and
part of the stepmother's nuclear family. Stepchildren are competition for fathers' limited free time and resources.
This is true whether or not
the stepmother has her own children.
Unlike in an intact biological family, the father's interests are
going to be conflicted in a blended family situation. There is no fully satisfactory solution to this, and
it is one reason blended families
do not function so well (and have such high divorce rates), especially if the father
spends time with his prior children in activities that by the father's choice or of necessity
exclude his later-born children
or wife. There are many examples of these: court-mandated father-child only
activities, dinners out, and therapies; parent-teacher conferences and school events
also attended by the ex; pick-ups and drop-offs that can take considerable time away from the intact
family, derail spontaneity in outings, and may also include impromptu
visiting with the former spouse; continuing communications with the former spouse; activities during
timesharing with the older stepchild that are not suitable for including later children or the stepmother; timesharing and
school holiday schedules that conflict with the stepmother's children's time off or interfere with holiday plans, etc.
Some men resolve the conflict by directing the bulk of their emotional and financial support toward
the children of their current wife, rather than their own children from other relationships, even if her children are not his. Others
cause undercurrents of strife in their current marriages by voluntarily or involuntarily
continuing to divert a not insubstantial part of their free time and emotional
and financial resources to a competing family system. In the latter situation, their current wives consciously or
subconsciously attempt to resolve
this problem (women tend to manage family systems) by
creating one unified family and/or by engaging in a pretense of loving the stepchildren and
the timesharing arrangement, especially if they have no choice in the matter.
Some women lack insight into their own feelings,
under a need or strong desire to please their husbands. Some have no practicable
choice but to
carry the banner of their husband's ongoing complaints, gripes and excuses, or displaced guilt about how his choices
might have harmed his prior children, because if
they stop cheerleading, their marriages will falter. Others just silently chafe, as he continues to maintain a "good relationship" with
the people who had first claim on him.
(2) Reducing the child support her husband has to pay. This is especially pernicious inasmuch as the subsequent
wife should have been aware of her mate's prior obligations when she decided to marry and have children
with him. Some women, however, often those who were childless when they met him,
did not at the inception fully appreciate the financial impact of the prior obligations,
the possibility of increased child support in later years, the insulting effect of their own financial contributions
toward limiting his deductions in the child support calculation process, how this would impact their own emotions down the road
or their future children (or their
subconscious vision of a future intact happy family), or any of the attendant blended family emotional
and authority issues. Financial
issues are the tangible symbol of the loyalty and unhealthy alliance problems,
and are a more easily perceived and articulated irritant.
(3) Obtaining a vague hoped-for better situation on balance for her own children, such as the older half-sibling's
(if the stepchild is more attached to his mother's other children than to hers), or even
free babysitting. Notwithstanding men's fond hopes,
it is nearly never that a stepmother feels about her stepchildren as she does about her own children.
Importantly, stepchildren do not
benefit from being continually in a residential situation in which they are second-best to the better-loved biological
children of their stepmothers.
Moreover, the stepmother's own children,
who have only one mother, do not benefit from sharing their one mother with a child or
children who already have a mother elsewhere. The stepmother's children also do not benefit from the continual presence of a
stepchild who lives by other rules and values, or from witnessing their own mother's
denigrated household and parental
authority vis a vis the step-sibling. Most often, however, and more and more these days
with the fatherhood rhetoric and parenting plans, the stepmother has no choice or control
over the timesharing situation that directly affects her own family and marital life. Thus, having
more control can seem preferable, and more "family" timeshare carries the possibility of more control.
These issues not infrequently are subsumed under the compelling and usually inarticulated or unrecognized
emotional needs of the stepmother described under item (1), above. But they also are about control and consistency
that the stepmother needs for the benefit of her own children. Even though the presence of a stepchild
denigrates the time and attention
the stepmother can direct toward her own children, the stepmother may still believe that if the
stepchild were integrated into the her family system, the
detriment to her own children will be offset by more hoped-for
familial unity. Her goal is to reduce the father's split loyalties and the competition from the stepchild(ren) that turns
his attention away from her family. If the stepchild is only another member of the group of children in the stepmother's home,
then perhaps the father's time and
attention can remain consistently directed to all of them collectively (e.g. holidays, family outings).
So not infrequently, stepmothers
seek compromise strategies even though their real feelings -- albeit self-preservation dictates that
they usually will loudly and indignantly deny these feelings -- range from
tolerating the less-than-ideal situation (if they truly are fond of the stepchild or stepchildren), to fervently
wishing that his former family would just vaporize and disappear.
(4) Satisfying a need, also widespread among childless stepmothers and girlfriends,
to prove that she is, in all ways, the better
woman and mother. This is a competition thing, often exacerbated intentionally or unintentionally
by the husband,
about the woman who was there first. Some second wives uncritically adopt, attempt to create, and/or seek to reinforce the negative
opinions of their husbands toward the first wife, vested in believing wholly in his skewed point of
view and a reconstructed history of his prior relationship (e.g. "I never
really loved her"; e.g."She is a negligent mother"; e.g. "Parental alienation", etc.).
Not infrequently, their husbands deliberately or unwittingly promote this, and may
even have remarried in part to obtain convenient homemaking and childcare from a preferred fungible (in his mind)
"mother". Other women
develop their own negative feelings because of jealousy, especially when naive assumptions about being "the
mother" in an instant family give way over time to the reality. Many women live to regret their
credulity, and change their points of view
considerably, if later on they themselves get divorced from the same man. This is particularly sad for
who did not have the children they might have had, and after years of effort,
illusions are shattered when, post-divorce,
they are no longer
a de facto mother of his children as both of them formerly pretended was the case.
Are there exceptions to these rules? Sure. But far, far less often than not, and almost never if there
is a stepmother leading the effort to change an existing custody arrangement.
Note to judges, psychologists, custody evaluators, legislators and the media: Stop facilitating the fantasies. Stop creating
and exacerbating the problems. Stop it. Stop it now.