When Kids Believe a Lie
by Laura Petherbridge
“Mom said if you would pay your child support on time, we would have enough money to pay our bills,” Kaitlin, the 12 year old stated. “Dad, why don’t you send mom the money you are supposed to give her?”
“Grrrrr” the stepmom roared.
My own parents divorced when I was eight, and I endured their raging battles over money as a child. Then for the last 27 years I’ve been married to a man with 2 sons, and I’ve experienced first-hand the money madness of stepfamily living. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve worked in divorce recovery for 22 years watching the exes “duke it out” over visitation, child support and financial issues.
One of the hardest things after a remarriage is how to respond when the kids believe, or are hearing, something that isn’t true? Commonly, that issue surrounds money or child support.
Before I share things that can help the situation, I need to stress that these steps to resolution should be taken by the dad, NOT the stepmom. If stepmom is present during the discussion, (understand that the child may not feel comfortable or share as openly if she is there), she should let Dad do the talking.
I know some of you are getting ready to send me a nasty e-mail, first, hear me out. I was born talking, plus I’m a control freak, so I fully understand that keeping silent is torture. However, in a stepfamily the dynamics are different.
The child needs to know this information is coming from the biological parent, the one he is bonded to and trusts, not from the stepparent. The child often views the stepmom as the reason why the money isn’t coming in, and that she is preventing the father from paying.
Hear this clearly, if the stepmom does the talking, it will solidify the child’s and former spouse’s conviction that dad is just a puppet on a string, dancing to whatever she desires. It makes stepmom the villain.
Here are a few “do’s and don’ts” that I have found helpful. In an age appropriate manner, with compassion, patience, and without anger, Dad should:
- Help the child understand that this is an adult issue. “Kaitlin, I’m sorry that you have been drawn into the discussion about money between your mom and me. That’s an adult issue, not something a 12 year old should worry about.”
- Present the root problem, “You know your mom and I have differing views about certain things. We don’t always agree. Unfortunately, that comes with a divorce sometimes.”
- Identify with the pain, “I know that must be confusing and frustrating for you. It must be hard to know which parent is telling the truth when we say things that contradict each other. I know you didn’t ask to be from a divorced home, and I’m so sorry you are hurting.”
- Speak truth, “Kaitlin, I want you to know that as your dad I love you, and I want to tell you the truth. I know your mom shares with you that I don’t pay the child support, but that just isn’t true. I’m not saying your mom is a bad person, I know she loves you. However, as your dad I must tell you the truth.”
- Offer proof, “If you would like to look at my bank statements which reveal how much I’m paying your mom, I am willing to show them to you. If that makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to look at them. But I want to offer a way to show you that I’m telling the truth.”
- Move on, “Kaitlin, I want what is best for you. And I do want you to know that as your dad I am paying my child support but even more important I want you to know how deeply I love you. Try not to worry yourself over these adult issues. If your mom brings them up, it’s OK to tell her you don’t want to talk about it.”
- Affirmation and security, “Even though I’m remarried, I’m always here if you want to talk about anything. You don’t need to be afraid to ask me. ”
That should help the daughter relax and know the documents are available if she wants to see it. Some children will want to see the proof, some will not. Just hearing Dad offer sometimes will be enough.
If your husband refuses to have a talk like this with his child, that doesn’t mean the stepmom should step into his role. This is between parent and child.
Here is the part many stepmoms don’t want to hear, but they must if sanity is to be found. (I’m going to lose a lot of friends in a minute). When your husband decided to get remarried, that didn’t eliminate his responsibility to provide emotionally, financially, physically, and spiritually for his other children. The alimony and child support from his divorce agreement are still due, whether you agree with it or not.
That doesn’t mean he is supposed to be a bank and give to his children’s every manipulative whim. It doesn’t mean he should jump every time his ex-wife wants something. Please don’t hear what I’m NOT saying. However, many stepmoms believe once dad gets remarried and takes on a second family, that the other children should have compassion and understanding about his financial strain and receive less.
This is incorrect. He brought those children into the world, and he is still fully responsible to provide for them. And he signed a divorce agreement making a vow that he would deliver. It is his duty and obligation.
My husband is an extremely honest and truthful man. He always paid his child support and all the doctor, dentist, etc. bills early (He was a banker for 25 years, which should explain). And we still had financial battles with his former spouse. It’s just one of the unfortunate consequences of divorce.
This has been a hard article to write, and for the stepmom an even harder one to read—I’m sure. Let me say, I’m sorry. From experience, I know that the stepmom journey can be complex, frustrating and just plain unenjoyable sometimes.
Keep your eyes on what you know is true, pray often, stand by your spouse, and let go of the things you cannot control.
Copyright © 2012 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, divorce prevention, singleness, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce and The Smart Stepmom, coauthored with Ron Deal.