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"I think I'm more of a father to the boys than he is." The problems in remarriage.

"Elaine and I have had a lot of arguments recently and we can't seem to resolve them." James Craig, a tall, slender man in his early 40s spoke quickly "Elaine has two sons from her first marriage. Last week we were discussing with Tom, the oldest who is 17, a special trip he takes each year with his father. I asked why Ross, her first husband, shouldn't take the younger boy, Bobby, along with them. Bobby, who is 14 and has cerebral palsy, is a very bright boy who has done exceptionally well in school and has really maintained a remarkable life considering the physical limits he has.

"I married Elaine when the boys were nine and six. I think I have been a good stepfather to them. I'm a teacher so I've spent a lot of time working with them on their schoolwork and hobbies. Elaine and I have been with the boys through happy events and illnesses. Elaine was working full-time when we met and still does. Her former husband, Ross, does very well but the amount of money he gives to the children or Elaine is minimal. He's been generous when it comes to doing things together with Tom but he very rarely includes Bobby-When I discussed this with Tom, he acted annoyed. Elaine got upset and said that I was just trying to spoil everything for Tom. Elaine may have been right. From time to time, I do get annoyed at Ross for doing so little with Bobby. Sometimes I think I'm more of a father to the boys than he is - even though he is their biological father.

"Tom goes to college next year. It's up in the air right now because there are certain schools he'd like to apply to but they depend on his father's willingness to pay the tuition. Although Ross has promised to, the question is -- will it be like all his other promises? There's only so much Elaine and I can do. Whenever Tom goes to Ross to talk about it, I guess I resent it.

"Lately I've also been talking about what kind of future we should help Bobby plan for. Whenever this has come up in the last several months, Elaine starts shouting at me, then heads for our bedroom. There's no conversation at all after that.

"Another topic that leads to arguments is having a child of our own. When we first met, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to have children or not. Elaine herself felt it was something we could talk about later. She had so much to do just handling her two sons. I liked the boys right off - they were just so nice to be with. Since I'd been a bachelor so long, they brought a lot of excitement to my life. We've had our ups and downs but, over the years, decisions about what role I had in their lives and particularly, my right to make demands upon them, have been things we have been able to discuss. Now that my own life and career is settled, I wanted to discuss having a child. All these things together have really made for a fairly unhappy period in our lives. But the thing that concerns me most is that we can't seem to discuss it at all.

"I know Elaine is concerned about it herself. After the last argument, she thought we ought to meet with somebody to see if we can understand what's going on. I know how I feel, which is unsettled and bewildered. I also know we have to learn how to talk about these things'

"I guess there are some things that we had on our minds that we should have talked about before we got married," Elaine Craig, a short, dark-haired woman looking younger than her age, spoke softly.

"I met Jim through friends of ours. I really didn't have much free time - I was working so many hours just to support my children. I was still trying to figure out what my life was going to be like when I took my kids on a picnic with my friends who have children about the same age. They brought Jim along. From the beginning, he got along wonderfully with my kids. It was clear that he liked to play with kids and he seemed to be interested in children of all ages. In some ways, I also found him to be a great listener - no matter what I worried about he was always very helpful.

"I thought my life had ended when my first husband left me. We had no real trouble until Bobby was born. It was a long, hard delivery and it was clear from the beginning that Bobby had difficulties that were going to make parenting extra hard. Ross seemed to disappear after I brought Bobby home. He began to spend more and more time away from the house and more and more time with his friends and family. He began to drink. And then one day he just didn't come home. He called and said he could no longer handle the children or me.

"I was stunned. I felt badly enough just struggling with Bobby and some of his problems by myself. I felt there was something wrong with me. I went to see a counselor at that point. Mrs. Green tried to help me understand that none of this was my fault. It was not my fault that Bobby was born with difficulties. It was not my fault that my husband couldn't handle the marriage. And, as soon as I felt better, I stopped seeing Mrs. Green.

"Jim has been very generous to all of us with his time and in his interest. Ross, my former husband, has not been responsible. Although he and his parents have a great deal of money, he is always late with the support payments. He was probably responsible back when we first got married - although I can't think back that far. I was young and I didn't know what to expect. For whatever reason, I've kept this part of my life from Jim, also - my feelings about myself and my feelings about how worthy am I and my feelings about having been abandoned. My own family - my mother and father - have not been very supportive. I still fight with my mother every time I see her because she still thinks I should go after Ross, as if I could get something from him. It always makes me feel I did something wrong.

"About a year ago, Jim began to talk about having a family - something he had never mentioned before, although I should have known how much he liked children. And this fall when we began to discuss Tom going off to college and I realized pretty soon Bobby would be growing up, too. I began to realize that we'd be alone. We'd have time to learn about each other but somehow, that scared me. I began to think that if the children weren't around, maybe Jim wouldn't like me. And all the old nightmares I had when Ross first left me have returned. There must be something we can do, because I feel stuck, too."


The Craigs came to discuss their marriage because they both felt they were at a crossroad. It was a second marriage for Elaine Craig. She had ended a difficult first marriage several years after the birth of a son, Bobby, with a physical disability. From the beginning of their marriage, Jim Craig had been a very thoughtful, involved stepparent to both his stepsons, Tom and Bobby. Having been overwhelmed by the disillusion of her first marriage and the bitterness that came with it, Elaine Craig was grateful to have such a thoughtful husband for herself and father for her sons.

In the past year, her oldest son Tom, a senior in high school, began making plans to go to college. He began to turn more and more to his biological father, Ross Byrd, upon whom he was depending for some of his college costs. Tom's turning to Mr. Byrd caused anxiety for both the Craigs. Mr. Craig cherished his role as a father, supporter and confidant. He was troubled to see himself as the rival of a man who was not deserving. He was also concerned by the way Ross Byrd had treated Bobby, the youngest son, never wanting to spend time with him.

Mrs. Craig had mixed feelings about her first husband's supporting her son Tom's college plans. On the one hand, money to help Tom go to college would be important, but it was also a reminder of how difficult he had been in helping her with Bobby

The first child leaving home for college or work is a milestone for all couples. It makes them look back at the beginnings of their marriage and at the hopes and aspirations they had both as a couple and as individuals. It is a time for reassessment and planning ahead for a future where they will play new and different roles in relation to their children. This is an additional challenge for people who are in a second marriage. For these couples, the early period of parenting is not a shared experience. Entering a marriage for Mr. Craig brought him the role of fathering which he had enjoyed. When his oldest stepson turned to his own biological father, it was a very difficult experience for him and it made him want to consider fathering his own children.

For Mrs. Craig, when her son turned to his biological father and began planning to leave home, it aroused memories of a difficult period in her life - the problems in her first marriage and the divorce. The notion of having a new family made her feel vulnerable to the same kind of difficulties she had experienced after the birth of her second son and the end of her marriage.

Although the Craigs spent a great deal of time thinking about the children, Mrs. Craig had never had anyone with whom she could share and evaluate the painful experience of the birth of her son, Bobby and the end of her first marriage. Like many people who are divorced, she was afraid that sharing the experience with her second husband would only expose her frailties and make her unacceptable to him. Also, because choosing to marry Jim was tied to his playing such a wonderful role for her children, she never fully examined her own relationship with Jim.

After several meetings, Mr. and Mrs. Craig came to fully understand the commitment they had made to each other and the support they had provided each other. Mr. Craig found that his ability to advance in his career had been enhanced during the marriage. His family life gave him support and pleasure away from work. Mrs. Craig began to appreciate what a satisfying experience she had had with her second husband and how supportive he had been. They both found their fears about discussing painful issues had obscured how well they had lived and worked together during their marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Craig realized they had avoided thinking about the future of the younger son with the disability. They had been very supportive of him but had not done any active planning. Also, they agreed to include the youngsters in the meetings, recognizing that the boys were aware of the parents' discord at home.

-- M.J.S. --

This case has been selected from private practice and consultation files. The names and circumstances have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
COPYRIGHT 1992 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Family Life
Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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