Step families

The latest post at Abel Keogh’s Running Forward Widower Wednesday talks about pre-nups, wills and adult kids who can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their parents’ “wealth” belongs to their parents and not them.

I ran across this a lot at Ye Olde Widow board. People who were fine with idea of remarriage but adamant that their late spouse’s hard-earned this or that would never, ever, ever benefit in any way, shape or form the next spouse or, goddess in heaven forbid, his/her worthless children. A whole lot of assumption but basically stemming from the odd notion that what your late spouse might have left you in the form of life insurance, marital home or other valuables is somehow still his or hers.

When you die, you don’t take it with you. Not even in spirit. What happens, or is accumulated on earth, stays on earth. Furthermore, it becomes the property of someone else, who is now free to do whatever the hell they want with it. And trust me, they will. I have seldom witnessed someone inherit from a parent or grandparent and not piss the money away like trailer trash with a PowerBall jackpot.

As my late husband lay in the intensive care before being moved to hospice, his mother sent her best friend to query me about life insurance. How much? I was asked. And because I was completely stunned that anyone would ask such a question at such a time, I told her. Absolutely nothing.

It wasn’t until much later – after mother-in-law absconded with money from the memorial that was meant to help cover the expense of it – that I realized the inquiry about life insurance was about calculating her cut.

You would be amazed – or maybe not – by the people who truly believe that inheritance is a given and have their hands out sometimes way in advance of your death.

A sizable proportion of adult children are like this. They see their parents and grandparents as some sort of long-range saving plan. A way to pay off the mortgage, plump up retirement plans or just have a wad of cash to fritter away on vacations and material crap.

Second marriages make these kinds of people – nervous. They have visions of “their” inheritances being used frivolously by step-parents for outrageous things like … eating or paying the property tax and keeping a roof over their elderly heads.

So, the topic today is when you remarry, do you have a financial plan in place to make sure that in the event of your death your new spouse doesn’t end up homeless while your kids vacation in Tahiti?

Yeah, yeah. Their mommy or daddy would have wanted you to put your new spouse at the mercy of your greedy kids because after all, she or he worked themselves to death for the money that was left to you.

Except that they didn’t.

They took out that life insurance or built up the retirement plan to take care of you. You. Not your grown up kids, who you should have been taught well enough to be able to pay their own bills, save for their own retirement and goodies. You.

Money we inherit is no longer anyone’s money but ours.

Yes, we have an obligation to use it for the benefit of our minor children and to see that our very young adult children find a good footing in life, but at some point our kids get old. Really old. Sometimes as old as we were when we were widowed in the first place. They are adults who mostly ignore our advice in favor of what works best for them, and they build their own adult lives with their own spouses and their own kids. And if we did a good job raising them, they really shouldn’t be running to us with their hands out – ever.

But there are emergencies, you cry.

Yes, I would agree, but inheritance doesn’t fall into that category. Inheritance is a form of expectation based upon nothing more than the notion that because you sired or birthed them, they are entitled to some sort of monetary reward triggered by your death.

It’s wonderful when we can leave our kids, or grandkids, a little something, or even a lot of something, but we should shy far away from leading them to expect this from us. Or from giving them the impression that it is their due. It’s not owed to them because they merely exist.

Plenty of perfectly wonderful parents spend every last dime before they die. On themselves even! And sometimes they need that money because they get sick or have other pressing expenses.

Some parents and grandparents even leave their “fortunes” to charity or endowments or to people that aren’t even blood relations!

NOTHING good comes from adult children who’ve been led to believe that the money daddy left you is also theirs. Zero good. Refrain mightily from going there because even if you don’t remarry, it’s going to be a big ugly thorn in your side when you hit a certain age, and they start counting chickens they think you are overspending. You don’t ever want your 50 year old child questioning your need to take a trip or buy a new pair of boots or go out to lunch every Tuesday with your friends because it’s eating up the money you should be saving to leave him/her.

I am not exaggerating. Countless seniors live with harpy adult children who view all things mom/dad as eventually their things.

The best way to avoid tantrums from adult kids if you should decide to remarry is to not have even given your children cause to believe they have the right to question you on the subject of remarriage and to never have intimated that they are somehow entitled to an inheritance.

But if you haven’t done either, there is still hope. You can tell them now.

You should also make sure that you and your future spouse have thoroughly discussed all matters money. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want your wills to look like in terms of what goes to whom and how you each plan to care for the other in the event of incapacitating illness and death. If there are assets or minor children that need special considerations, discuss and plan for that too.

Communication, as I have said before, is key. KEY.

Don’t be that elderly woman who is living in a house owned by her step-children who are just waiting for her to die so they can sell it.

Conversely, don’t be that old man whose late wife’s jewelry ended up in the hands of his second wife’s daughter-in-law because it wasn’t specified in the will that it should go to his granddaughter.

If it ‘s important then it is important enough to discuss and plan for IN WRITING and preferably with the assistance of a lawyer.

But just in case you can’t let go of the idea that procreation has saddled you with the task of scrimping, saving and leaving something to your grown up kids so they can enjoy a better retirement than you will, there are options like life insurance policies and trusts.

However, if you remarry, your primary concern should be your spouse. Leaving him or her to simply fend for themselves in their advancing years is so cold and harsh that it amazes me that people who would do this even find someone to marry again at all. What self-respecting person signs willingly to be accused of being a gold-digger and ends up on cat food and public assistance so their step-children can one day  indulge themselves on eBay?

Let’s sum up.

Money matters. Children do have the right to heirlooms. Second wives and husbands shouldn’t be at the financial mercy of step-kids when you are gone.

Talk, talk and talk some more about this before remarrying. Don’t include your kids! It’s not their business. Better yet, avoid raising your kids to feel entitled to enrich themselves via your death.

And finally. consult a financial planner or estate planner or lawyer or anyone who can walk you through the realities of what your new spouse will need by way of assets when you die. You might be surprised to find out that what you thought about money and second marriages and death isn’t at all what reality is.

Sibling Rivalry (Family Guy)

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One of the longest and wide-ranging studies ever conducted on the relationship of personal satisfaction and siblings has concluded that you aren’t imagining it when you believe that had your parents practiced safer sex, you might be happier today.

Apparently, the quality of childhood (and some would argue this extends into adulthood as well) is greatly influenced by the number of siblings you have.

For each sibling added to a family mix, the level of satisfaction for the others diminishes. I would venture to add that the quality of the new sibling’s personality is also a factor and that your parents child-rearing/interacting interest and skill set probably is key as well.

Speaking only from the perspective of an oldest child, I can attest unequivocally to the fact that a mess of younger siblings did nothing to improve my life on the whole. Aside from my next in command sister, DNOS, I could have easily been an extremely happy only child. I have all the requisite qualities. I was low maintenance (which admittedly made it easier for my parents to foist their fantasies of a large family on me), able to entertain myself and not disturbed at all by solitude and silence.

My singular qualities, in fact, made the additions of siblings difficult for someone who preferred a more Garbo like existence.

I know people who adore their large families. Count their siblings as best friends and couldn’t imagine being an onlie.

Dee is less than enamoured with “onlie-ness”. She laments that her older sisters aren’t closer than a decade and more to her in age. Though, I would venture a guess that they have both pondered the implications of being singletons with a bit of longing.

DNOS and I frequently have conversations that center around the lament of the younger two existing.

Oh, stop. It’s not that gruesome. We are all adopted and had they not been our siblings they’d be some other unfortunate family’s burden to bear.

But fond as I am of DNOS now that we are well into adulthood, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have thrown her under a bus to be an only child when I was a child … even a teenager.

She would protest, but the truth is that she benefited as much from following me as the younger two did in terms of my parents aiming all their strictness at me. I was practically a shield for the rest of them in terms of unrealistic expectations and experiments in parenthood.

I will admit, however, to appreciating my younger siblings as we all hit our pre-teen and teenage years. Being an “easy” child to raise meant that when they began acting up as teens, I was pretty much ignored. A small boon but one well deserved given how much of their care was foisted upon me when we were all small.

My folks were farm-bred Depression babies. Old schoolers who still totally believe that you have more kids so the older ones will learn to be responsible. And that’s actually an interesting stance given that the fact that they were the youngest in their families.

Dad actually wanted a very large family. In excess even of his own experience being one of six children. I have no idea at all why Mom married him given that expectation because there is no one less suited to being the mother of a horde than she.

My most vivid childhood recollections of my mother was of a very angry woman who clearly did not enjoy housework, cooking or minding more than one child at a time.

By the age of five, I was the oldest of four. Wherever we went it was Mom and four wee children, consequently, we did not get out much unless Dad was along. Even then, I can’t recall a single outing that didn’t end with someone being yelled at, hauled off the ground to dangle by a tiny little elbow or smacked on the bottom.

Being the oldest, I quickly learned to lay low and deflect when necessary, but I often wished that I had no siblings at all (when I wasn’t wishing for different parents or a stint as an orphan living with my much more tolerant of me Auntie and Grandmother).

It’s not that we fought much. Aside from my brother, CB, I rarely fought with any of my siblings, but this stems from the fact that at very early ages, we all went our own ways and sought out more like-minded compatriots. We could, and did, clan up in times of trouble, but we mostly had little to do with each other – something that really still defines us today.

I don’t know a lot of people personally for whom family is all, or most even, in terms of close relationships/friendships. Even if friendship preference evolved it tends to be with only one or a couple of siblings within families.

Most people I know have sibling relationships that range all over the “it’s complicated” scale, and even relatively cordial interactions came with middle-age and were possibly even forged by crisis situations.

At my age, I deal with the whole sibling thing only when it rises like Dracula from the tomb, which mercifully isn’t often. We have our own lives filled with significant others, children and chosen companions. Our need for each other – not much to begin with – is reduced to base-touching and keeping an eye on our mother as she dodders into advancing age.

It’s enough. And it’s okay.

But, I still think I would have made an excellent only child.

Recent traffic surges and an uptick in subscribers has left me feeling oddly pressured and blogging with the feeling of “daily chore” about it.

I’m also feeling less comfortable with personal revelation now that some of my readership dwells in my real world as opposed to the – as my daughter puts – “internet people” I’ve become accustomed to in my bloggy version of the reality show confessional.

And there is the fact that I am slowly inching back into the world of working … at a real job … for money. Not much money. You’d either chuckle at my audacity of referring to it as “work for pay” or fear for my survival if I were suddenly called upon to be the breadwinner again. Very little bread could be purchased with the bread I am making.

Pool all this and the end result is me not blogging much … again.

Regardless, there’s little news in the neighborhood to blog about at any rate.

Summer finds me in full-blown stay at home mom mode much more so than at any other time of year. Swim lessons. Camps. Weekends off in the wooded or mountain areas.

Last weekend we got away for a quickie to Garner Lake and this coming weekend, we’re off to a family reunion weekend a way up north near Grande Prairie.

Shelley’s family gathers every fourth year at one of the area’s community halls to pitch tents, horseshoes and bocce balls. There’s a big dinner followed by a dance on Saturday night and judging from the tales I’ve heard, I will be even more completely out of my elemental self than I normally am around Rob’s late wife’s family.

Trepidation is running at high enough levels that I’ve even tread back into nightmare territory – a sure sign that my exterior zen is squaring off with my internal misgivings and fears.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Shelley’s family has been nothing but polite and graciously so to me and Dee, but feelings have flared out of sight.

Rob thinks I am being overly pessimistic and that everything will be fine, but every time I have been around that side of the family, heavy drinking occurs*. And I already know that most of the extended family are keenly aware of what my presence symbolizes which puts both me and them on sharp edges.

This is the first family reunion since Shelley died. Her mother, step-father, father and both her mother’s brothers have died in the interim. I can’t help but think that this is something that will not hit people until everyone has gathered … and had too much to drink.

Of course, it could all just turn out peachy.

I am crossing fingers for peachy. And taking my yoga mat.

*One of the sisters-in-law is an alcoholic who appears to only deal with her issues when she is completely shit-faced, which is clever because no one in the family can call her on behavior she has conveniently blacked out.

At least, I don’t think I am evil. Or all that bad as a step-mother. And as a result, I take offense when I read stories where step-mothers are villanized or watch movies in which they are reduced to fairy tale stereo-types.

Being a step-parent is not something I ever considered. When I was single, I refused to date men with children from previous relationships because as a teacher I’d never encountered a blended family where the adults made even the slightest effort to be adults and parent cooperatively and it was the horror of that which compelled me to nix daddies as date material.*

Even as a widow, when I had almost nothing but men with children from whom to pick, I still didn’t give much thought to step-motherhood. Or step-fatherhood even. I was determined that Dee have a father who would love her like his own. There would be no “step” because I don’t buy into the notion that love can only blossom biologically where offspring are concerned.**

I don’t claim to have some magically family blending powers or secret recipe. Rob and I have always approached it as a united front and with the attitude that everyone around us will adjust if given time, love and attention, and things go well for us on this front.

Last night Dee and I watched the horrid A Cinderella Story with Hillary Duff and some boy-toy flavor of that particular moment. The story began with a little girl and her widowed father, who was just shy of utter perfection and loved by all. He marries, inexplicably and without much warning, a  woman who made me shudder before she said a single word. Name the stereo-typical affliction and she had it. Plain to homely face. Overweight. Shallow. Materialistic. The mothering skill set of a magpie*** And, of course, two mini-me’s.

Assuming that one can put set aside their disbelief at this point, or swallow the idea that remarriage – for a man anyway – spells certain doom by way of untimely death, then the rest of the movie makes sense.

But I kept coming back to the evil step-mother thing because I am not evil nor do I know any woman who is a real life step-mother who is.

The first blended family I encountered belonged to elementary school friends, Karla and Patty. They’d lost their mother and father respectively and their parents found each other and remarried when they were in the second grade. They were the second youngest with several much older siblings and a younger brother apiece. In all, there were about 10 or 11 children ranging from 6 to late teens. There were ups and downs, but they considered themselves a real family and their step-parents “real” parents.

Sam Baker wrote a post for The Guardian this last week about literary step-mothers which provoked an interesting give/take on DoubleX.

Since I am tired of the only comments I receive being spam, I would like to hear your opinions. I yield the floor.

* I knew many children who regarded their step-parents well and had warm relationships. It was the “grown-ups” and their issue that was my issue.

** People who do think this should be avoided as romantic prospects. jmo, but idiot thinking like that is simply the tip of an iceberg best left to some other intrepid soul.

*** Edie’s downstairs neighbors rescued a baby magpie last fall and are keeping it as a pet. (They are from B.C. – seriously people without sense where animals are concerned). They feed it raw hamburger.  Magpies have been known to carry off small kittens to feast on.

I know it’s Tuesday and from a fresh news perspective Dee’s first day of school yesterday, the “growing” push for Texan succession and the latest Glenn Beck YouTube parody – except it’s really him and not terribly funny – will all pass the smell test and what I want to talk about won’t. And I’m sure at least half of you are tired of the blending and the widowy, but things come up. They run around the rooms in my mind before burrowing in and blossoming with the rapidity of qwack grass after a soaking rain.

Saturday was the hamlet wide garage sale and hockey swap meet. There is nothing like a dozen or so neighbors displaying their junk and the lure of hockey equipment to bring out the crowds from The Fort. Rob and I, being us, worked until after 10 on Friday night setting up. Other people toss their unwanted onto tables and are done. We treat it like it’s a real business or something. Consequently, other people get more sleep than we do.

By the time we’d cleaned up and were in bed it was after midnight and the plan was to be up by eight to finish the remaining pricing.  At 4:30 I woke. My right leg was stretched across Rob’s side of the bed and the toes were dangling off which is something that can only happen if Rob is not there.

The dimmest bit of light was straining to lift the blinds and I headed downstairs in search of my husband (and to use the toilet because I am old).  At this time of day the sky is bruised by the indirect light of a sun still too far east to do more than send word of its impending arrival. Such a difference from just a few weeks ago when the sun never seemed to set at all.

I found Rob wrapped in our old comforter on the couch.  He was grumpy from lack of sleep and the fact that the sadist train engineer had just crawled past the hamlet with the whistle at full throttle.

“I’d just managed to fall asleep too,” he said.

He’d been up since two. For reasons he didn’t explain until much later, he was up and couldn’t fall back to sleep. He hadn’t wanted to wake me tossing and turning, so he’d gone downstairs, fiddled about on the ‘Net until his eyes burned and tried to catch a few winks on the sofa.

I got him to come back to bed. He was so exhausted by this point that he fell asleep quickly, but I was awake. I got up at 5:30 and was out in the garage by 6:45 and that is mostly where I remained until 3P.M.

But I did come in a bit before 8 to wake Rob who thought perhaps I had a birthday present  for him despite the fact that he’d issued a no present edict earlier in the week. The next day he would say,

“It was probably one of the worst birthdays ever.”

So much for birthdays not being a big deal.

We’d planned dinner in the city with the older girls for seven that evening. It should go without saying that neither of us was energetic enough to really be looking forward to the 45 minute drive – each way – but the sitter had been booked. Last minute sitter cancellations can lead to difficulty finding willing sitters, so we headed into the city.

Let me digress a minute. Earlier in the week, Rob noted that I had been commenting a bit more on widow blogs. He wondered if I was okay. I was heavy into the memory mode with purging old things for the garage sale. On the surface I felt fine but after a bit of reflection, I realized I was a bit blue about Rob’s birthday. Not that it was his and not mine. I actually love planning parties for other people more than I like celebrating my own birthday. It came down to the fact that we were having two celebrations to accommodate the children. We took Dee out for dinner on Friday night and had cake upon returning home. Saturday was with the older girls because their adult schedules sometimes make it too difficult for them to always be traipsing out to the country.

The thing was that Rob has three daughters, but I have one. As much as I love Edee and Mick, they are not my daughters. I am not their mother. My birthday doesn’t mean anything at all to them. Which is not to imply that I think it should or that they are not wonderful or that we have a contentious relationship. But where Dee becomes more Rob’s child than Will’s, they remain Rob’s daughters.

It’s not something I expected to bother me. I knew perfectly well that, with their being adults, we would not have the relationship that Rob and Dee have formed and will continue to form. And I get it. I really do. One of the reasons I have shied away from searching for my birth parents – my birth mother in particular – was that I didn’t want to feel bound to love her like I love my mom or to have expectations of any deep connection.

And though we get along quite well and the girls are genuine and warm, I know they struggle with just who I am in their lives.

The word “step-mother” is not used. I am introduced as “Ann” or sometimes “This is Ann, Dad’s wife.”

And to clarify further, no one uses the “step” prefix in our family aloud really. Dee doesn’t even know what a step-dad or step-sister is.

I am ever conscious of my actions and words. I don’t want to push or encroach or presume or give the impression. I walked into this with more knowledge than Rob, who at one point declared himself willing to be Dee’s father figure but that he could never be her father father.

We stopped by Edee’s to pick her up. She’d been home with her cat, one of Bouncy’s brood if you recall, who was at death’s door from a blood parasite she’d picked up. And I mean the literal door. Pandora was at a point where she was using her reserves to try and crawl away from wherever Edee put her – looking no doubt for a place to die. Even I know enough about animals to know that.

Dinner was back and forth between pleasant conversation and tearful worry. There was hugging and reassurance and I never know when I am doing too much or not enough.

We’d told the sitter we’d be home between 10 and 10:30 and it was 11 because after dinner at Edee’s poor Pandora was no better. We finally left after assuring Edee that whatever she decided to do concerning Pandora’s care  we would support. The naturopath vet had prescribed an antibiotic with herbal back up and instructions to bring the cat in on Monday if she was no better but still alive or a trip to the emergency vet clinic, an expensive affair that makes a jaunt to the human ER in the states look affordable by comparison.

Rob called me from the car after dropping off the sitter to let me know that Edee had texted him and needed him to go along to the ER with her and Pandora. He didn’t get home until about 2:30 where he found me still awake.

Why? The ghosts are back … but then he already knew that.

Rob and I had a conversation last night about being a blended family now. And though we are that, aren’t all families really? Even when there are no children involved, there is still a coming together of two sets of relatives that somehow have to learn to exist within the same sphere even if it is only at holidays and children’s birthday parties.

Jordan and Farron, Rob’s girls, have done a tremendous job with making Katy feel as though she is their little sister. Neither one has ever disputed her when she has announced their sisterhood to whomever was listening. They listen to her. Play with her. And tease her as though she has always been a part of their lives. They have made me feel welcome too, and I haven’t felt as though it was just politeness on their part even though it more than likely was in the beginning maybe still is sometimes. A friend of mine whose husband has a now grown daughter from an earlier marriage told me that from the very beginning she resolved to think of her husband’s daughter as her own and treat her accordingly. The girl lived with her mother, but my friend felt that using words like “stepdaughter” implied a difference that was negative. Her “daughter” does not call her mom nor did she ever expect her to, but she references the girl as “my daughter” or “our daughter” because she feels that terminology is reflective of attitude. I took that to heart. She is right. “Step” is a prefix that has been demonized in fairy tales and movies. It’s a “bad word” even with good intentions. When I talk about Jordan and Farron, I say “the girls” or “Rob’s daughters”. I don’t ever plan to use “step”.

Katy, my little girl with Will, does not know the correct terminology for blended families. She references “Daddy Will” and “Rob” or “Daddy Rob” and lately she has been calling Rob just “Daddy” on and off. She is not confused. She knows who everyone is and how they are related to her, but in her simple (and it’s never really been) reality, things are what they are. Rob and Mom are getting married which will make him her father and his girls her sisters. Small children have such wisdom it makes you wonder what awful things we do to them that empties them of so much of it as they grow older.

I don’t want to imply that all this merging has been easy or will not have bumps as we continue through the years. As I have blogged before, nothing is simple about moving forward. It’s difficult when it is just you and moreso when there are others involved, but life and living are primarily about our interactions with others, spouses and children being primary and branching out in importance from there.

Once upon a time it was just me. And then I married Will and we added Katy. Will died and it was just Kate and I until Rob and with Rob I gained his girls and he gained Katy. And now there are five.

"Under the horse chestnut tree", 1 p...

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I have never pretended that I ever wanted to parent on my own. As a matter of fact when I turned 31, I actually spent a few months comtemplating  single parenthood. Not because it was becoming a trendy thing, but because I really couldn’t imagine not having a child of my own. I came to the conclusion though that it was too daunting a task and much too unfair to a child to go it alone. 


Imagine my surprise when the fates went ahead and made a single mom of me anyway.


It isn’t that I am not good at it. I am commended right and left for what a wonderful child I have, but I often wonder if they are merely saying that and the unspoken part of the sentence is “for not having a father..” Because the truth is that my little girl is headstrong and spoiled. I have been too distracted and too tired and just too grief-stricken to hold the lines that needed holding as often as they should have been held.


Case in point is that she still sleeps with me. She has slept with me almost from the beginning. I am assured by other two parent families that children do sleep with their parents. It is more common than the majority let on and that eventually they all sleep on their own.


I feel like a failure nonetheless.


Neither I nor any of my siblings ever slept with our parents in their bed. Their bedroom as a matter of fact was strictly off-limits. I have memories of hovering in the doorway to their room and asking to be allowed in. Even in the middle of the night. Even if I was ill. I never even tried to broach the door if I had a bad dream. I would just pull the covers over my head and grip them tightly to prevent whatever monster I had dreamt of from gaining entry.


I bring this up only because I worry that this bad habit I have left to its own devices will become more of an issue once the summer comes and we are in Canada with Rob. He is patient when it comes to my parenting skills, but he is far and away the expert. It must take quite a toll on his inner Virgo to tactfully approach subjects concerning my daughter. 


We had a semi-conversation about sleeping arrangements tonight on the phone, and although he brought up nothing I hadn’t already thought about, I still felt bad afterwards because I know firsthand that no one was ever meant to do this by themselves.


I wonder more often than not who she would be if there had been two of us raising her.