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LOVE AND WORK IN MIDDLE ADULTHOOD
THE GOOD NEWS Most middle-aged adults are married, and married people tend to have sex more often than single people. This is contrary to the image of the swinging singles lifestyle maintained in advertising, movies and other media, but quite consistent with the experience of most of us regular people. To put it bluntly, as a single adult, to have sex, you need to go out somewhere, meet a person, have a conversation, and make a good enough impression (or become so intoxicated that it doesn't matter) and you end up in bed. When you're married, you basically have to say, "Honey, I'm home." Even after ten years of marriage, most married couples have sex at least once a week. Despite frequent articles in the newspapers and TV in the decline of marriage, most Americans still report wanting to be part of a couple.
Good advice on relationships based on research on couples who report being happily married (refer to chapter 16 for references)
Spend time with your spouse. There is a lot of talk about "quality time" but the research on happily married couples indicates that it is no replacement for chunks of just plain old time you spend together. I have always thought this myself, if you don't want to spend time with a person, why the heck do you marry them? However, it IS easy, especially when you have children and a career, to get so caught up in the activities of daily living that you do not have time for each other. DON'T.
At least one, if not both, members of a couple need to"take care" of the relationship. They need to make it a priority, consider their spouse's perspective, actively engage in behavior that makes the relationship work, such as setting aside time to be together. Two people who both are career-oriented are less likely to have a happy marriage, as is a couple in which one is focused on the career and the other is focused on the children. Relationships don't take care of themselves. Interestingly, while you might think that this role of emotional caretaker falls on the woman always, in fact, in about a fourth of the couples in one study, BOTH partners reported being relationship-centered.
THE BAD NEWS 60% of women will go through at least one divorce. I am in that middle generation, barely old enough to remember when divorce was considered shameful, and young enough to remember when people thought it was "just a lifestyle choice". In fact,divorced adults have a higher rate of psychological difficulties, physical health problems and accidents than do single, married or widowed adults. Women experience a precipitous decline in their standard of living (economically) following a divorce. Men, who have fewer and less close friendships than women, experience more emotional problems following a divorce. For a good review and a lot of data on the effect of divorce on men, women and children, I highly recommend Second chances:Men, women and children a decade after divorce, by Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee.
STEPFAMILIES: The Second Time Around
70% of women who divorce remarry (and didn't you love that comment in your book about how the U.S. Census based their data on women's responses because they found that women told the truth more often!)
A significant number of those remarriages involve children from first marriages of one or both spouses and children from the new marriage. Over a third of children under 18 will spend part of their childhood growing up in a stepfamily.
Your textbook gives some suggestions regarding potential problems and suggestions for stepfamilies. Another resource is a good book called simply Stepfathering by Mark Bruce Rosin. Unfortunately, it is out of print, and a friend who recently remarried saw my copy and asked to borrow it. Some good advice, from these sources as well as my own experience:
GO SLOW! Just because you love this person does not mean your child will love them. Often, you have known your new spouse much longer and more intimately than your child has. You and he or she have gone on many dates together, perhaps you work together. To the child, this person may be a relative stranger. Don't expect instant love. One of the links below I liked in part because the author admitted that sometimes she didn't even LIKE her stepchild, much less love him.
GET TO KNOW THE CHILD. Again, you may be best to take
it slowly, but you will be vastly rewarded, or, at least, have fewer problems.
When my husband and I were first dating he wanted the children to like
him. His first thought was to buy them expensive gifts. I said "no". My
children, of course, were aghast - this was their chance to get some serious
loot, no? Instead, I suggested that he make them each a web page. This
was back when about 1% of the population had Internet access - can you
believe that was just a few years ago?! So, he sent them email, asked them
what they were interested in and made them each a web page. Maria's had
links to all the pole vaulting sites on it, Jenn's had links to Beethoven
and other classical music sites and Ronda had links to sites on Cheetah's
and puma's. I won't say they developed an instant love for each other,
but he at least got to know a little about each child as an individual
rather than just "AnnMaria's daughter".
DISCIPLINE. Ah, the big one. Or, at least, one of three big ones. Unlike in a biological family, where you can kind of gradually work on your ideas of discipline, in a stepfamily it's BANG! There the kids are and how do you work it. I have two recommendations. First, the parent and stepparent need to discuss this AT LENGTH. When my husband and I were married he stated emphatically that he did not feel comfortable administering discipline at all. Although I was not pleased with the idea of being the sole disciplinarian, I think it was good that we discussed this right at the beginning. Now that we have been married for over two years, and he has known the kids for four years, he feels much more comfortable disciplining the children when they deserve it. And do they ever deserve it some days. Second, decide what type of discipline is appropriate. Neither of us like the idea of hitting children unless they have been horrible, and we both think that after some age, around 13 or 14, physical punishment is not appropriate unless your child has committed murder at school or baked the cat or something.
DAILY ROUTINES. My husband mentioned that, when we were married, it was as if he was already coming into a functioning family system. The girls and I had our ways of doing things and everyone expected him to adjust. Then there was, as one stepfather in Rosin's book put it, the fact that
"You knew where everything was. The tape goes here. The flashlight lives there. The postage stamps are in that place."
Every stepfather I have know who has had the new family move into the home that was previously his alone, has reacted to that statement with an emphatic YEAH! And, like the stepfather in Rosin's book, they feel like it is such a trivial thing to be upset over. The fact is, he was comfortable knowing where everything was, having a routine about when the shopping was done, and all of those other million facets of daily life which are now changed.
THE OTHER PARENT. Some day, I am going to write a book on the difference between stepfamilies and single parent families due to death versus divorce. The short version is that children are likely to experience some concern about being disloyal to their other parent in both situations, but it is generally less severe in cases where there was a death. For example, my children have a picture hanging in their room of me and their father. It is perfectly acceptable to everyone in the house if they bring up their father in conversation and what he would have done, memories they have of him. There is a lot less conflict involved because he is not questioning our parenting or enforcing different rules at his house. Unlike families when parents are divorced, when a parent dies, there is not a continuing conflict.
In the family at the left, the tall young man in the middle is the father's son from his first marriage. The four girls are from the mother's first marriage and the little boy is from this marriage.
1. What are some problems you anticipate this family might have?
2. The couple's five children from their previous marriages range from 8 to 17. What types of reactions are the children at different ages likely to have to the divorce and remarriage of their parents? Or does age matter? Do you think the girls and boy will react differently?
3. What advice would you give this family on being a happy blended family?
Stepmom station is a site that gives stepmothers' perspectives. Personally, I have never been a stepmother, really. (My late husband's children were all adults by the time we married, and we lived thousands of miles away.) I find this an interesting read to get an inside view.
Rituals - one idea to help families re-form.
WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK WOrk Work work w...
IMPORTANT NOTES ON JOB BURNOUT
?What is it? When work which was fulfilling becomes unfulfilling
and unsatisfying. When you become bored, apathetic, depressed, tired and
frustrated. When you just don't care what happens on your job any more
and everything seems hopeless. People who burn out are more often in the
"helping professions", such as nursing, teaching and social work. People
who work with individuals with serious problems, such as mental hospital
staff, divorce and criminal lawyers and police also have a high rate of
burnout. All these professions have in common that they take a toll on
a person's emotions.
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