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Dating after divorce or death can be complicated, especially if children are involved. As people navigate the world of dating and blending families, they’ve asked Ron Deal, stepfamily expert and author of Dating and the Single Parent, the following questions plenty of times: How soon is too soon to start dating? Should I introduce this person to my children?

“On the topic of blended families, someone once said, ‘People marry and form a blended family because they fell in love with a person, but they divorce because they don’t know how to be a family,’” says Deal. 

Deal believes the key to dating as a single parent is to include the children in the bigger picture.

“Certainly, it depends on the age of the children,” Deal shares. “A younger child is more open to new adults in their life, but you don’t want to introduce your 4-year-old to a person that you just started dating. You don’t even know whether you like this person. Wait until you think this relationship really has a chance of going somewhere, then you bring them into the picture with intentionality.”

For older children, elementary and beyond, Deal suggests talking with them about it first. Ask, “What if I started dating? How would you feel about that?” This way, you are putting it on their radar that this might happen. 

“Once you know that the relationship has potential, it is important to create opportunities for everybody to be together and for additional conversations to take place,” Deal says.

Deal strongly encourages couples to discuss a few things before deciding to move forward with marriage, though.

Some couples decide to test the waters with the two families by living together first. This creates ambiguity for the children. When children experience this uncertainty, it creates chaos and empowers resistance. If they don’t like the idea of the families coming together, the ambiguity leads them to believe they could make the whole thing unravel. 

Deal believes, more than anything, a stepfamily needs two adults who have clarity about their relationship and the family’s future. By having conversations ahead of time, you are valuing the “we,” and then the children. If you can’t come to an agreement on your parenting styles, that’s serious. Deal believes it’s just as serious as marrying someone with addiction issues. The outcome of these discussions should be part of the equation as to whether or not you plan to marry.

“At least half to two-thirds of dating couples don’t have serious conversations about how they are going to parent when they bring their two families together,” Deal says. “If your parenting styles are vastly different, this can be a dealbreaker.”

In many instances, one parent has been making all the decisions for the children. Now add a second adult into the mix who isn’t their biological parent. What will you do when your child asks to do something and your answer would typically be yes, but your new spouse doesn’t agree with that?

There’s no question that negotiating parenting and romance all at the same time is complicated. You have to manage the complex moving parts for sure. But Deal believes that if you’re going to make a mistake as a blended family couple, err on the side of protecting your marriage.

“The goal here is to protect your marriage, which is why it is so important to talk about these things prior to getting married,” Deal asserts. “Biological parents have an ultimate responsibility to and for their children, but if you make a parenting decision without consulting your spouse, it isn’t helpful to your marriage. The goal is to co-create your parenting response. You cannot have two different answers for two different sets of kids. That unravels your “us-ness” as a couple.

“It typically takes four to seven years for a stepfamily to find their rhythm,” Deal adds. “There is no rushing it. You can’t will it into being. There are certain aspects of your family that will merge faster than others. Even in the midst of figuring out how to make it work, your marriage can be thriving.”

Looking for more? Check out this article of JulieB TV on this topic!

Several years ago a company donated Mother’s Day cards for prisoners to send to their mothers, and they actually ran out of cards. The company also donated cards for Father’s Day, but guess what? This time, inmates only used a handful of cards. This shocked the company.

A Pew research piece may offer some insight into why this happened. After analyzing the 2011 American Community Survey, Pew asserted that a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

On the surface this sounds like a victory for women, but the report’s details tell a very different story. It shows that two very different groups make up these “breadwinner moms.” Actually, 5.1 million are married mothers who earn more than their husbands, and 8.6 million are single mothers.

“You would never guess from the triumphant headlines in the media that almost two-thirds of the family breadwinners are single mothers,” says Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up and Marriage and Caste in America. “These mothers are not ‘top earners,’ they are the only earners. Only 37 percent of the ‘breadwinning women’ are married mothers who are making more than their husbands, and in many instances, this is because the husband lost his job.”

A whopping 63 percent (8.6 million) of these moms are single mothers, 29 percent of whom are not working at all. More than half of the children in homes with single moms are growing up poor. According to the report, a growing number of these women never married. Other studies have shown that never-married mothers tend to get less financial assistance from their children’s fathers than previously-married mothers.

The Atlantic responded to the Pew research by saying, ‘Employment and gender roles in the United States continue to shift away from the Leave it to Beaver model. Murphy Brown is winning,’” Hymowitz says. “It speaks volumes that the article’s vision of a single mother is a make-believe character who is a television news star.”

Research still consistently shows that children do better in every way when their two parents are present in the home. So what exactly are we celebrating? It isn’t about who makes more – it’s about helping families thrive.

On Father’s Day, perhaps prisoners took so few cards for a reason. Maybe it’s because so many fathers have walked away from caring for and engaging with their children, although others want to be there. Oftentimes, a father’s seemingly irreconcilable differences with the other parent keeps them from engaging with their kids.

Whatever the case, guess who loses? The children.

An analysis of 100 studies on parent-child relationships shows that having a loving and nurturing father is very important. It’s as crucial for a child’s happiness, well-being, social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

Dad, your kids need you.

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Steps for Keeping the Peace in Broken Homes

Keeping these things in mind can decrease conflict.

“How do I get my ex to be consistent with discipline?”

“Sometimes I find it very hard not to talk bad about my ex in front of the children.”

“Nothing makes my blood pressure go up faster than when my ex says they will do something and they don’t.”

“I honestly believe my ex does things intentionally to get back at me.”

In the aftermath of a divorce, people often realize that instead of being better off as they hoped, they’ve traded one set of problems for another. There are a lot of frustrated moms and dads who don’t understand why they can’t agree on anything after the divorce when it comes to parenting.

Life is Different

Even if you’ve lived with this person for years, learning how to live separate lives while still parenting your children well may be tricky. There may be things your ex is doing that you totally don’t agree with, but you have to figure out how to work within the boundaries of your new relationship while always considering what’s in your child’s best interest.

For starters, it’s important to plan how you’ll manage as a single parent.

  • Get organized so you can move forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, friends who can provide support and backup, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what’s important.
  • Focus on family. Set expectations, keep the lines of communication open, establish boundaries and set aside time to be together as a family.
  • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is more about doing the best you can under hard circumstances.
  • Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate when you need them.
  • Take one day at a time. After you’ve put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

This transition time can be very challenging. Working your plan can help you bring some order into your life. It can also help you keep your cool when things don’t go as planned with your ex.

Keep the Children out of the Middle

An old African proverb says, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

“Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children,” says stepfamily expert Ron Deal. “Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass because they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

Parents who want to reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children should strive to be effective co-parents because it reduces between-home conflict and increases cooperation. Taming your tongue, for example, is critical to cooperating. Conflict containment starts with controlling your speech. You cannot be an effective co-parent without doing so.

“Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” Deal says. “While you may be relieved to be out of the marriage, your children have been in a transitional crisis. How well they recover from that crisis has a lot to do with you, the parents. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

According to Deal, children successfully adjust to the ending of their parents’ marriage and can fare reasonably well if:

  • The parents are able to bring their marital relationship to an end without excessive conflict.
  • Children are not put into the middle of whatever conflicts exist.
  • There is a commitment from parents to cooperate on issues of the children’s material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.

Many ex-spouses have a tough time cooperating about anything, let alone the nurturing and disciplining of their children. Some things are just plain hard, but you want the best for your kids.

Co-parenting does not mean sharing all decisions about the children or that either home is accountable to the other for their choices, rules or standards. Each household is autonomous, but there’s shares responsibility for the children. Rules or punishment from one home may not cross over to the other home, to make matter more complicated.

For example, if your child gets in trouble on Thursday and he loses his television privileges, in an ideal world it would be great if your ex were willing to enforce the consequence over the weekend. That may not happen, so the consequence would go into effect when your child returns home to you Sunday evening. Telling your ex that he/she has to enforce your consequence usually leads to more conflict between the parents and more angst for your child.

Deal believes effective co-parenting should look something like this:

  • Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.
  • If possible, schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. Make a list of things of things to go over. A word of caution: Do not discuss your personal life or that of your ex. If the conversation drifts away from the children, redirect it toward your children and their activities, schedules, etc.
  • Never ask your children to be spies or tattle-tales on the other home. That kind of thing creates more stress for your child. If you hear about something that happened while they were with their other parent, listen and try to stay neutral.
  • When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, it’s not helpful to capitalize on their hurt or berate the other parent.
  • Having everything they need in each home will keep the kids from having to bring basics back and forth.
  • Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings. Bitterness, hurt and anger keep you from being the person and the parent your children need.
  • Do your best to keep your promises and be reliable; broken promises or unreliability can hurt your kids deeply.

In the midst of a complicated and difficult situation, you have the opportunity to show integrity, honor and respect. Even when you don’t like someone anymore or you don’t think they deserve it, respectfulness goes a long way.

  • Make your custody structure work for your children even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.
  • If you plan to hire a babysitter for more than four hours while the children are in your home, consider giving the other parent first rights to that time.
  • Suggest that younger children take a favorite toy or game as a transitional object.
  • If you and your ex can’t resolve a problem, change in custody or visitation, agree to problem-solve through mediation rather than litigation.

Moving On

“The reality is many parents who were poor marriage partners are good parents and their children enjoy them very much,” Deal shares. “Give your ex-spouse the opportunity to be wonderful with the children, even if he/she wasn’t wonderful with you.”

You are traveling in uncharted waters. While you probably have friends who have experienced this and are willing to give you advice, it may not be right for your family.

A father once said that it had been six months since his divorce and it was time for his “kid” to get over it. Children of divorce don’t ever “get over it.” They may learn how to cope with it, but every day for the rest of their lives they will have to make decisions that are a result of their parents’ divorce.

As time goes by, you may feel like you are moving on, adjusting and putting this chapter in your life behind you. However, this is not something your children will ever “put behind them.” At every turn your child will gain new insights and more questions. They must understand the divorce was not their fault. Equally as important is being intentional about modeling healthy relationship skills with your children.

Additional Resources:

The Smart Stepfamily: Seven steps to a Healthy Family – Ron Deal

Parenting After Divorce: How to Work Together with Your Ex-Spouse for Happier, Healthier Children – Ron Deal

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – Judith Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakesless

What About the Kids?: Raising Your Children Before, During and After Divorce – Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee

Smart Stepfamilies

Looking for more? Check out this video by JulieB TV on this topic!

Does marriage matter? People have been asking this question for decades. For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America examined how family structure impacts the economic fortunes of American families. Dr. Brad Wilcox, senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and Robert Lerman, professor of economics at American University, conducted the research.

They concluded that marriage is key to productive adulthood, stable families and healthy communities.

Five significant findings emerged from this study about the relationships between family patterns and economic well-being in America:

  • The retreat from marriage is key to the changing economic fortunes of American family life. The median income of families with children would be approximately 44% higher if the United States enjoyed 1980-levels of married parenthood today.
  • Strong associations exist between growing up with both parents in an intact family and higher levels of education, work and income. Young men and women from intact families enjoy an annual “intact family premium.” The premium amounts to $6,500 and $4,700, respectively, over the incomes of their peers from single-parent families.
  • Men obtain a substantial “marriage premium” and women bear no marriage penalty to their individual incomes. Plus, both men and women enjoy substantially higher family incomes compared to peers with otherwise similar characteristics.
  • Growing up with both parents increases the odds of attaining higher education. Higher education leads to higher odds of marriage as an adult. Both the extra education and marriage result in higher income levels. Men and women from intact families who are currently married enjoy an annual “family premium” in their household income. The premium exceeds that of their single peers from in non-intact families by at least $42,000.
  • All populations benefit from growing up in an intact family and being married. It applies about as much to blacks, Hispanics and whites. The advantages also apply to less-educated men and women. Men with a high-school diploma or less enjoy a marriage premium of at least $17,000 compared to single peers.

Strong and stable families are economically vital.

Consequently, Wilcox and Lerman contend that business and civic leaders and policymakers should strengthen and stabilize marriage and family life in the U.S. And since the poor and working class feel the impact of the nation’s retreat from marriage most, Lerman and Wilcox believe the efforts should be focused on them.

The authors also recommend:

  • Public policy should “do no harm” when it comes to marriage. Policymakers should eliminate or reduce marriage penalties.
  • Civic institutions, private and public partners, businesses, state governments and public schools should launch a national “success sequence” campaign together. This would encourage young adults to sequence schooling, work, marriage and then parenthood. It would also stress the benefits of being born to married parents with a secure economic foundation.

Lerman and Wilcox contend that the nation’s retreat from marriage is worrisome. It not only affects family inequality, but men’s declining labor-force participation and the vitality of the American dream.

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Singles everywhere are bracing themselves for the holiday they dread the most – Valentine’s Day. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, there will be an onslaught of commercials advertising amazing packages couples can take to celebrate their love. If you don’t have a special someone in your life and wish that you did, it can be really painful. Some have even dubbed the day, S.A.D.— Singles Awareness Day.

But there are all kinds of ways to handle Valentine’s Day and the weeks surrounding it. Some choose to ignore it, claiming it is nothing more than a made-up holiday to generate revenue. I mean, it could be true – people will spend more than approximately $650 million on food, candy, flowers and other Valentine’s Day gifts. Others sit at home, lamenting the fact that they don’t have someone special in their life.

One group of singles decided they were done being irritated and sad about the day. They came up with a plan for an annual dessert party and contest. The guys had to come up with a dessert recipe and make it without help. The desserts would be judged on presentation, creativity and taste.

Each year the ladies in the group developed a different theme and gave awards based on the theme, which was not announced until the night of the party. Past themes have included the Olympics, Reality Shows, current events and news headlines.

There have been some pretty amazing entries: volcano cakes, replicas of landmarks, Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding and jalapeño brownies. There have also been some epic failures. For instance, one guy tried to make something kind of healthy thing that turned out to be totally disgusting.

Bottom line: It didn’t really matter whether it was a winner or a serious dud. It was a great way to spend time together, celebrate and laugh, which made it a fun way to spend Valentine’s Day.

Through the years some of the original members of the group have married, but they still participate in the annual contest.

If you’re single and dreading Valentine’s Day, here are a few tips for making the day fun.

  • Gather with friends. Have dinner and make Valentine’s cards to send to people who probably won’t receive a Valentine, like an elderly neighbor who has no family.
  • Make a batch of Valentine cards and send them to some single friends without a signature.
  • Invite friends over for a special dinner instead of going out to eat.
  • Offer to babysit for some married friends so they can go on a date.
  • Send yourself some flowers.
  • Throw your own dessert theme party or come up with your own creative party idea.

Valentine’s Day is not just for romantic couples – it’s for singles, too. It’s a celebration of the love we feel for others. Take time out to acknowledge those who have made a difference in your life through their affection and support.

The challenges of single parenting are many. Holding down a job, taking care of the children’s needs and household repairs, and a whole host of other things vie for the 168-hour week. How do single parents make it through the trials and come out feeling good about themselves and their children?

When Martin Luther King III was asked how his mother handled being a single parent, he responded, “My mother did the best she could. She surrounded us with caring adults, including my grandmother, who loved us and provided structure and security to help us grow to be responsible adults.”

Census reports indicate there has been a significant increase in single-parent households. In fact, more than 13.7 million men and women find themselves in the position of parenting alone. Things that have never been issues before are now on the radar screen, often producing anxiety, fear and many sleepless nights.

“I have been a single parent of three for six years,” says Richard.* “I didn’t know a soul when I moved here and had no family support. The biggest obstacle for me was keeping all of the balls up in the air. I was launching a new business and trying to keep my family going.”

Richard describes his transition into single parenthood as highly emotional.

“I was living in a one-bedroom place,” Richard says. “At the outset it was very difficult. I realized I was insecure emotionally. I remember taking lunch hours to do laundry at the laundromat.”

Fortunately, Richard found resources that were available to assist in his parenting efforts.

“The aftercare program at school was a lifesaver,” Richard shares. “There were teachers and friends who helped out in many ways. We were befriended by many people to whom I will always be grateful.”

If you’re a single parent trying to find your way, here are some helpful suggestions from seasoned single parents:

  • Be organized. Make a plan for moving forward. Take time to sort through activities, job demands, a budget, available resources, etc. This will help you to be more in control of your situation and to focus on what is important.
  • Focus on family. Set expectations, establish boundaries, keep the lines of communication open and set aside time to be together as a family.
  • Throw perfection out the window. It isn’t about having it all together. It is about doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
  • Ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. There are resources available, but you have to make the connection. Neighbors, friends and co-workers are often ready and willing to step up to the plate.
  • Take one day at a time. After you have put a plan together, don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture.

After going through the trauma of a breakup, loss or abandonment, it’s easy to shy away from asking for help for fear of being seen as weak. Most single parents say this is not how they wished things would go. But over time, many single moms and dads realize the experience has made them stronger and that it is truly okay to ask for help.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

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How can you make visitation count? Many divorced parents face the reality of divided time with their children. Arrangements vary from weekend visitation to splitting time with each parent right down the middle. This often creates problems between the two homes: sometimes one parent is strict and the other is lenient, one parent may try to fill both parental roles, or perhaps one parent’s home is like a vacation spot.

Occasionally, parents refuse to work together for the good of the children out of spite for each other. This sets up an environment of competition, guilt and resentment, according to stepfamily expert, Elizabeth Einstein.

How can you work together for the best interest of your child?

First, you must put your issues aside. It is helpful if both of you:

  • Complete a joint-parenting plan and agree on expectations and limits so that your child can’t manipulate you;
  • Work as a team to provide consistency for the children;
  • Agree not to degrade or talk negatively about each other even though you might still have unresolved issues and anger;
  • Allow the children to talk about their feelings while listening and comforting them, as they also are going through a very difficult time; and
  • Try to make home as normal a place as possible.

Each of you should have a plan in place for how to spend your time with the children.

  • Remember to make sure it is not necessarily all fun and games, but give them the freedom to learn and get to know you better, just as they would if they lived with you all the time. It is important that the parent-child relationship does not only become one of playmate, peer or buddy when visitation time comes, but one of bonding.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for the visitation, and do not expect your kids to be cheerful and happy all the time. They are going through adjustments that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
  • Remember, no one is perfect. Do the best you know how to do. Work with your children to establish new traditions. Stick to the agreements in the joint-parenting plan, and above all, be consistent during the special times you have with your children.

As time progresses, being a single parent can weigh heavily on people as they age. I get bombarded with questions from friends and family about getting back to dating and sharing my life with someone. They usually ask questions like:

“So, is there a special someone?”

“Are you dating yet?”

“So, are you talking to anyone of interest?”

LOL!

Since I know all the questions come from a place of concern and love, I have to be mindful that they don’t mean to sound as if I need a man to complete me. What they really want is for me to have someone to do things with.

As the single parent of a teenager and a lifelong student, balancing my life is even more chaotic. I balance working on my dissertation with a full-time job, maintaining the house, taking my son to and from school, going over homework, and spending time with my son. I also embrace a full house when my son has friends sleep over, cook, clean, drive, provide finances, and sleep. Yes, somehow I sleep, too.

Being single doesn’t define me. I refuse to subject myself to wearing the scarlet letter of single motherhood. I choose to embrace where I am. Making goals and opening myself up to possibilities are a few great ways to channel my energy to more positive aspects of living my best life.

Whether I am helping my friends, seizing teachable moments to assist my son and his friends, or making time for self-reflection, it is important to set tangible goals so I don’t feel stuck. Reflecting on things from the previous year helps me to stay grounded, grateful, and inspired for the year ahead. When people see me progressing and living my best life as a single, they’ll see that I will be okay.

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