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Archive for the 'Divorce' Category

Our blended family vacation

July
13

There’s always a unique kind of dynamic with these situations — in our case two parents, each with their own child. That’s our blended family.

Last week we all hauled ourselves upstate and settled into a lakeside cabin, and I came away with some observations.


The interesting dynamic is how a blended family operates in these situations. We did all of the family activities you would expect: Canoeing, swimming, toasting marshmallows, taking a hike to a waterfall, etc.

But, in the end, there’s always a bit of a division that happens at the end of the day. That’s not to say it’s in a bad way, necessarily. But, ultimately, I gravitate toward my son and my girlfriend towards hers. The inescapable fact is that I am ultimately responsible for my son and she for hers, much as we do generally function as a family.

Is that bad? As I said, not necessarily.

But it’s certainly a different component that you don’t find in your traditional family. The hope is that, with time, those divisions are minimized. But I suspect they’ll always be there in some capacity.

My question is does this happen in traditonal families also?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, July 13th, 2009 at 12:31 pm |
| | 5 Comments »

When is Blended Family Day?

May
13

Here’s a built-in problem in blended families: You never have the whole family together for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

There’s a simple reason for it. Namely, my son will always be with his mom on Mother’s Day (as he was earlier this month) and my girlfriend’s son will be with his dad on Father’s Day. So, we’re inevitably incomplete when celebrating our respective parenting days.

Kinda makes it hard to have the ideal family day.

Or does it?

Bethany Grey, editor at eHow.com, offered a list of suggestions for dads and stepdads to celebrate Father’s Day in a blog titled “How to Celebrate Father’s Day in a Blended Family.” I don’t agree with all of it, but some of Grey’s suggestions make sense, including the idea to shop for Father’s Day cards with the child. It’s a good stepdad experience to share.

Mostly, I like the idea of doing something the day before, something Grey didn’t hit on. This year, we grilled hot dogs and steak the day before Mother’s Day and had a picnic outside. It was fun and we did the family thing. I’m thinking we’ll do the same with my girlfriend’s son the day before Father’s Day next month.

One thing I’ve never wanted to do is give my girlfriend’s son the notion that I’m replacing his dad, at least not that way. This makes for something of a juggling act at times. But that’s a blog for another day.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 at 10:35 am |
| | 2 Comments »

A dad’s place is…. on a blog

April
23

Leave it to a dad’s blog to make this case, but the Examiner’s fatherhood blog has put out a list of five reasons why dad blogs are worth keeping an eye one. You can read the post here.

(Kathy Gardner/The Journal News)

Obviously, Parents Place is a general parenting blog, with capable dads AND moms in the mix. So, we’re more inclusive and take a wider view of parenting.

But I’ve always felt that there’s a need out here for more of a voice from fathers, whether it’s dads in traditional homes like my co-bloggers Jon and Len, or myself,  a father building a blended family. So it’s reassuring to see a list like this out there, especially with more dads involved in hands-on parenting.

And remember, there’s no shortage of good dad blogs on our blogroll, including Crazy Computer Dad and David Mott’s Dad’s House.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 at 8:00 am |
| | 3 Comments »

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National Provider Appreciation Day coming in May

April
16

The folks at Child Care Aware sent out a reminder that next month will bring National Provider Appreciation Day, when child care providers we entrust with our kids get honorable mention.

Not a bad idea, depending on the care the kids receive. We’ve been lucky that way, so I figured I would send CCA’s press release along for your consumption:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 11.3 million children under the age of 5 that spend some part of their week in child care. If this number includes your family, chances are you’ve added an extended family member or two to your daily routine. And you’ve selected a person that you feel will provide the best care for your child.

Child care providers put a lot of love and hard work into their careers, and they’re often rewarded with little hugs and a “thank you” every now and then. As your child spends time with his/her child care provider, a special bond begins to form. This person is an additional teacher, friend and trusted caregiver. Your child shares many special moments with the child care provider, and you enoy the benefits of these relationships on a daily basis.

This year, take some time to show your child care provider how much you appreciate what she does for your family. On Friday, May 8, 2009, the nation will celebrate National Provider Appreciation Day – a day set aside each year to honor those who are caring for our young children.

For more information on Provider Appreciation Day, go to www.providerappreciationday.org.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, April 16th, 2009 at 4:13 pm |
| | Comments Off on National Provider Appreciation Day coming in May

Who lays down the law?

April
10

Who wears the pants in a blended family? More to the point, who handles discipline?

According to blended-family blogger Cathy Meyer, the biological parent should discipline their own child or children. The stepparent should, in turn, deal with their own child.

Well, it’s an interesting dilema. I find that in our home my girlfriend and I often defer to the biological parent to dictate terms and punishment for misdeed by the kids. For us, this always entails a verbal reprimand and nothing more. But the tendency of both our children to be a tad more uneasy with the stepparent issuing the reprimand is part of a learning curve that I think takes time – and we’re still working on.

But I have never seen it as a black-and-white issue. We do consult each other regularly and we have gotten comfortable with correcting or issuing mild reprimands to the others’ child. If it’s still a learning process it is more so for our two boys, and they are coming along.

Still, Meyer seems to take a harder line in her blog:

“As a stepparent, you should avoid any decisions about the discipline of your stepchild. This can and does depend on the situation but in most cases, it is best to leave issues of discipline up to the biological parent. Your role as a stepparent is that of mentor and supporter, not parent. This is something many stepparents have a hard time coming to terms with.”

I don’t think it’s that rigid, and I think it is something that has to be overcome for a blended family to eventually succeed. What do you think?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, April 10th, 2009 at 11:45 am |
| | 4 Comments »

Study: Kids benefit from grandparents

March
6

Kids are better behaved and have better social skills if a grandparent is involved in their upbringing, according to a recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology, That’s kind of a no-brainer for most of us, but take note of the fact that the study found it’s particularly true in single-parent and divorced families.

(Joe Larese/The Journal News)

Obviously, plenty of children grow up to be marvelous human beings without significant influence from their grandparents. It was largely lacking in my childhood. But, and especially in single-parent homes, what an element of stability that can add to a child who doesn’t have the benefit of both parents in the home, or is struggling emotionally with the adjustment to a step-parent.

That’s a noteworthy footnote to the whole thing. At least it is for me.

 

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, March 6th, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
| | 4 Comments »

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Single-parent bailout?

February
23

Single-parent blogger Jennifer Wolf addresses an interesting issue in her About.com column: Are single parents included under “families” getting a helping hand in the new economic stimulus package? Well, according to her, the wording of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 suggests not.

There’s at least some legs to the issue: Examiner.com picked it on their site. To me, it’s less about the stimulus package and more about the redefinition of “family,” as Wolf points out. I suppose there’s two viewpoints on this: A family should legally be a traditional family, or it should be much more loosely defined. The latter is up for interpretation, either a household of children and at least one adult in a parenting role, or whatever. And you could argue that the traditional family definition ignores some demographic realities.

No doubt the issue is heightened when you’re talking about who gets stimulus money and how much is out there to give. But I suspect it’s a gray area we’re going to have to define at some point or other.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, February 23rd, 2009 at 1:41 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

Does rent make the parent?

February
18

Interesting issue tackled by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. The paper’s advice column fielded a question from a woman complaining that her boyfriend of three years was allowing his grown daughter to live in his house rent free. It has apparently become enough of an issue that she’s contemplating ending the relationship.

The paper’s answer? Since the girlfriend doesn’t live in the house and doesn’t contribute to the rent, it’s none of her business how the man runs his house.

This is not that far off an issue in single-parent relationships and within blended families, where turf issues — both physical and in terms of parental limits — are typical. What do you think?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 at 4:14 pm |
| | 7 Comments »

My cellular kid

February
13

I got my 11-year-old son a cell phone.

I know, why does an 11-year-old need a cell phone? I actually dwelled on this for a while, understanding that some of his schoolmates have had them for a couple of years. And I wondered why he would need one. The upside was that he would be able to reach out to us in an emergency or if there was a change in plans during afterschool activities or while at a friend’s house for the day. The downside was, well, why does he need it?

So, in the end I got him one, and I figured it was a good exercise in responsibility for him: Manage your  minutes, use it wisely and you’ll be able to keep it. As an aside, I also wanted him to have a way to keep in touch with his cousin, who he is very close with and who he is likely to see less off now that my ex’s mom — their grandmother — passed away at the end of last year. She was the glue that kep those kids in touch. Now they’re able to text and stay in touch regularly.

But I wondered about what it would cost. I have friends whose kids chalked up hundreds of dollars in cell phone bills after first getting one. So I waited for the “report card” — the first cell phone bill since we added him to our calling plan. Well, it came this week, and he’s well within his minutes. Phew.

Still, was it still a good idea? What age should we be hooking up our kids with telecommunication gadgets?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 4:15 pm |
| | 12 Comments »

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My son’s health care crisis

February
11

It’s a little bit different than the dilema plaguing many families across the nation right now. My son has too much health care coverage. This is the kind of thing you’d only get from layers of blind bureaucracy.

In a nutshell, my son has been on my health plan since my ex and I split up. No problem there. Recently, she added he husband and his son to her health care plan. Somehow, the paperwork was mixed and my son ended up on her plan too. Except we didn’t know right away. Anyway, she finds out and confirms this at her job and we discuss it. She suggests leaving him on her plan and we agree to do so. Obviously, I agree to remove my son from my plan. Seems simple.

Now, this is the kind of arrangement my ex and I have always been able to follow through on amicably. I’ve paid his health care costs for six years, and she figured it seemed fair that, given the inadvertent mess up by her health insurance carrier, we use the opportunity to have her pick up the costs to even things out. Seems fair. I know full well that health care costs are routine issues in custody disputes, and I am grateful that in this instance it has never been an issue.

Well, it wasn’t so simple. My health insurance provider says I had to make the change by Jan. 31, or I have to wait a year. I get it: That’s the rule. But that there’s no flexibility at all seems, well, bureaucratic. Oh, they are sending me an appeal request form, which will be considered and processed after a month of review.

I suppose the upside is that my son won’t be lacking for health care this year. But it strikes me as unfair that there are kids out there with no health coverage and my son is covered under two plans.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 2:03 pm |
| | Comments Off on My son’s health care crisis

Our culture and the new clan

January
28

You don’t necessarily set out in life to start a blended family. Some of us simply find ourselves in a place where you’re a candidate for it. You start you first family, have a kid, then things don’t work out and you go through a divorce or a split.

As I’ve blogged before, I’ve been fortunate in my situation because my ex and I do remain friends, and split parenting duties amicably. But there’s always a loss, and that primarily comes in the loss of a sense of family — something kids in divided homes will almost always want to recapture as well.

In our case, my ex and I have been lucky: She’s remarried and I live with my girlfriend and her little boy, so we’re both a part of blended families now. In fact, we’re part of a growing trend that, right or wrong, is reshaping the American family. Census statistics say that 75% of divorced people remarry, and 43% of all marriages constitute a remarriage for at least one partner. Yet, there’s still no guarantees: 60% of remarriages end in legal divorce.

Is it a case of, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again?” Perhaps. But I think single parents in particular legitimately covet that feeling of family for themselves and their children — a growing number of single parents, in fact. Given all this, I want to put a few questions out there:

• What do you think about the changing family dynamic in America?

• Given the percentage of failed remarriages, do you feel children of single parents are generally better off with a lone parent or in a new, blended family?

• What is your gut reaction when someone tells you they’re a single parent?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 at 12:45 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

My Jewban kid and his Cubish dad

January
21

Ethnic identity has been sort of a complicated issue for my son. He’s always known that his mom is Jewish and I’m Cuban, which makes him half Jewish and half Hispanic. But a Cuban guy with an Irish last name always has another story to tell, so he’s got the Anglo thing mixed in there from a few generations back, and his mom’s family is originally from Eastern Europe. The Jewish end has mostly dictated his faith, as his mom has been more observant of her faith than I have been of mine. At least we’re all white, so there’s no confusion with race.

Obviously, most of us are mutts these days anyway. But the real complication has always come in how my son is to refer to himself. He had to choose a culture to write about for a recent school project and he chose, with my encouragement, to report on his Jewish heritage. But what exactly is he when you mix it all in?

Well, thank God for the Urban Dictionary, which points out that my son is a Jewban. We even got confirmation on this from Wikipedia, just to make sure we were on the right track. Armed with our new resource, we were able to take it one step further and determined that I’m not just Cuban: I’m Cubish.

Now, we don’t really subscribe to labeling people as a general rule, but it’s just nice to know in a pinch. If only we can get the U.S. Census up to speed we’d be good to go.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 at 12:22 pm |
| | 9 Comments »

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Being the ‘parent’

January
14

At 11, my son is pretty well accustomed to the house-swap that occurs as a result of the custody agreement between his mom and I. That’s not to say he wouldn’t like it differently — I don’t think the desire to have your parents together in one home ever disappears. But after more than six years apart, his mom’s remarriage and my own blended family, he’s pretty much accepted that this is how it is. And he’s a happy kid.

With my girlfriend’s 4-year-old, it’s still a work in progress. We have a good relationship and he thoroughly enjoys my company — he seeks me out when he gets home from school, is sad if I’m not home yet. But, as I said, it’s a longterm process that we’re still going through. His dad is actively involved with him and spends every other weekend with him, as well as some nights when he visits us for dinner.

One of the things we’ve focused on in making the transition for him is coming up with a title for me. Obviously, I’m not his dad, and I’m only sort of his friend, as I am an adult. My girlfriend has decided to refer to me as his ‘parent,’ or his ‘other parent.’ On Christmas, the little guy’s gift to me was the framed text of a discussion he had with his mom, which concludes with, ‘Jorge is my parent.’ It was a transitional thing for me, and it’s now prominently displayed in our home.

But I have no illusions: This will be a longterm process, and one you can’t push. It’s also a process that more and more parents are increasingly dealing with. According to “this blended family website,”:http://blendedfamily.us about 50,000 people become members of stepfamilies in the U.S. every single month, and 1 out of 4 children live in a stepfamily by the time they reach 18. According to U.S. Census data, these kids end up in stepfamilies for various reasons, but most — about 55% — become stepchildren when their biological parent remarries after divorce. Overall, about 80% of divorced adults remarry, and 60% of them have children from a prior marriage, according to the statistic

The comforting part of all this for me is that the more stepfamilies there are, the more ‘field research’ there is on the issue. No one wants their kid to be a guinea pig, but the reality is there. So far, I’d have to say that I think our approach is the best and most organic: Love and nurture your stepchild, but be aware of the existing and vital relationship the child has with their biological parent. Doesn’t sound like rocket science.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 12:28 pm |
| | 2 Comments »

Men in the Mix

January
9

The adoption mix, that is.

While the statistics continue to weigh heavily in favor of women, men are on the rise as single dads and adoptive fathers. In a recent report, CNN noted that a growing number of men “are becoming parents using surrogate mothers.”:http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/12/23/single.men.parenting/index.html

Also note that the national Centers for Disease Control reported in an Aug. 2007 study that “men were twice as likely to adopt as women.”:http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/PRESSROOM/08newsreleases/adoption.htm If nothing else, these are increasing indications that the traditional family is being constantly redefined.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 9th, 2009 at 12:05 pm |
| | 4 Comments »

A death in the family

January
5

I felt fortunate this year that my son’s holiday season was a happy one. In fact, he made out like a bandit. In my book, that’s as it should be. As we do every year, we also bought gifts for needy children, something he has come to appreciate and we enjoy doing as a family.

His happiness was particularly important to me this year. That’s because he suffered his first significant loss with the death of his grandmother just before Thanksgiving, and two days before his birthday. This was his mother’s mom, with whom he was particularly close. Although she had been ill for some time, it was a very difficult process for him to go through, and one that he — and I — were a little unprepared for. It was, after all, his biggest loss since his mom and I split up, something I’m still learning to navigate in one form or another, albeit on a less frequent basis.

It was helpful for him to mourn with his mother, and the two of them shared their grief in significant and helpful ways. My initial concern was that he tried very hard to be a “big kid” about it, and did not want to be overly sad about it. He appeared more concerned about his mother’s wellbeing than his own. I credit him for that, but tried to assure him that he needed to mourn also. During the memorial service he started to break down, and was visibly overwhelmed by all the mourners who kept assuring him that his grandmother loved him dearly. I took him out of the room and we took a long walk together before coming back to the room.

I eventually realized that I needed him to mourn in his own way, and that perhaps I was projecting my expectation that he should be more broken up. He was, but in his own way, and it would happen slowly over time. The break-down moment for me came a couple of weeks before Christmas, when he was assigned a tribute poem for school. Of course, he wrote it about his grandma. It was therapy for him, and it was the outpouring of emotion that I feared he was bottling up inside. I felt it healed him to a large degree.

But the entire experience left me doubting myself, and how I dealt with it. Horrible as it sounds to say, he will suffer the loss of those close to him in the years to come, and I wonder how I would handle it differently if that comes to pass. I consulted several online resources for advice, and “found this at kidshealth.org”:http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/death.html and also “this at hospicenet.org”:http://www.hospicenet.org/html/talking.html for suggestions. Still, one learns from experience, and I think the best lesson for me was to let him be while reassuring him that it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to express yourself when you’re ready.

It’s not something you want to plan for, but you do need to be ready. That was my biggest lesson.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, January 5th, 2009 at 11:46 am |
| | 2 Comments »

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About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE



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