Baby Bonding and Blended Families — First Time Dad

Dear Brenda,

I’ve recently become a first time father with my partner who has three children from a previous marriage. While I am completely in love and in awe of my newborn son and loving being a father for the first time, I am feeling that my role of his father is not one that is being fully considered by my partner and in particular her eldest, a boy of 14 years. On a few occasions he has been commenting on the way I’ve been fathering my son and is telling me how things should be done. He also consistently wants to hold my boy, at the expense of my having time with him or giving him time to rest on his own without being in the arms of someone. While my son is only 5 days old at the moment, I feel like my role of father to my child is being merely dismissed. I have spoken to my partner about this but this seemed to be little avail with her, as expected sticking up for her son and, in my opinion, not dealing with the fact that this is my first child, more like thinking of this as just being another child in our relationship. I have fears that my son won’t be able to establish a bond with me, his natural father and will instead make more of a connection with his half-brother, in turn leaving me in the lurch.

All of these feelings have increased since my child’s birth, where the eldest congratulated his mum on the birth but didn’t say any such thing to me, instead critiquing me on how I was holding my son. Things came to head just the other night when my partner’s youngest made a comment to her older brother when he was holding my son trying to calm him down. She was awaiting her turn to hold my son and at the eldest determination to calm the child down she blurted out, “You’re not Xander’s father, Lloyd should be doing that not you.” This comment just made my feelings all the stronger as I felt that this was something that not only I was bearing witness to.

I am still at a loss as to what to do as all that seems to have been established from my discussion with my partner is that I have been stupid to think such thinks and probably need to change, but this is my first child and truly fear losing out on my role as father. Any advice that you could help me with would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

Dear First Time Dad,

When I brought my baby girl home, I had some of the same feelings. My then husband’s mother and brother were there and for the most part, everyone was holding the baby but me. I didn’t want to cause any familial riffs, so I stayed quiet, but inside I harbored the same concerns and fears. I’d read the books and I knew the importance of bonding! His mother would just look at me and rock and coo at her or the uncle would hold her while he watched football. It seemed they would only bring her to me to be breastfed. The day everyone left to go back Chicago, after waving one of the happiest goodbyes ever, I sat with her in my arms and looked into her eyes and said, “It’s just us now, it’s just us.”

So I understand how you feel about wanting a moment to hold this precious expression of life uninterrupted and without a running commentary on whether or not you’re doing it right. When this happens simply turn to the person who is making the comment and say, “I’m learning and I love this baby as much as you and we both have to find our way” or something to that effect. And let me just add, that all bonding is good. You want the 14 year-old to hold the baby, to feel close. There is no such thing as holding a baby too much. Though I’m sure an Old Wife is scolding me and pulling out her book of “tales” as she reads this. In just a few short years that same young man will be off to college or pursuing some life dream. You all are a family that is still blending and that beautiful baby is churning the waters. Let it be.

The issue I see in this family dynamic is that the family roles seem unclear. The eldest son should be given his respect as eldest son and no more. As you and your partner now stand at the helm of the household, there should be some boundaries drawn together about acceptable language and tone from the children. That is your issue, not whether or not the child will see you as its father. Do you hang out with the eldest? Have you taken the time to bond with him? Does he now know that he doesn’t have to carry the responsibility of playing father? Does he know that you have the role firmly in hand?

All around you, new routines are being established, new roles are being carved out and without the slightest bit of awareness this new baby has become king and is holding court, complete with cooks, nannies, jesters and advisors. I say, no matter what you’re still The Dad.

– Brenda

Brenda Breaks Down The May-September Romance: When he’s just a bit younger than you.

Hi Brenda,

I’m 30 and dating a 23-year-old. No one believes I’m 30. I practically look like I’m 22. He doesn’t have a problem dating me. He likes it to be known that we date.

I’ve never dated someone that much younger than me. But the problem is that I’m catching major feelings for him, and scared if I tell him it will shoo him away. I know he likes me a lot. We spend a great deal of time together. I met his mother, father, brother and just about all his friends and they all like and accept me.

But am I stupid for trying to make the relationship more, or should I just take it for what it is? Thank you.



Dear Confused,

Well let’s get some clarity here darlin’. The phrase, “I’m catching major feelings” sounds like a confession of love (Yes I said it!) And maybe it isn’t the age that bothers you as much as these deeper feelings for him and having expectations of the relationship moving toward something more serious or permanent.

So what will happen if you tell him and why are you scared? Is this a relationship or is this just a hyped up booty call? If this is just about sex and you have feelings you need to say it. If it’s not just sex, your confession of “love” or “feelings” shouldn’t come as a surprise to him if you are spending so much time together.

Let me just put this out there Confused, in a relationship you get to say what your needs are and be listened to. You get to say what your feelings are. If that doesn’t happen or can’t happen, then perhaps you need to move on.

And no, Brenda doesn’t think you’re stupid for “trying to make it more.” I do think you should take the risk, say what you feel and listen to what he says. At that point you will be at a place of clarity and you will know what to do next.

What do you think readers? Any cougar pups in the house? Is the age difference a big deal? I don’t think so. What do you think?

– Brenda

Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
The Clash

One of the questions I get asked the most is whether or not someone should stay in a marriage or a relationship. While listening to The Clash, I came up with this list.

You should stay knowing that:
You can only change you. Challenging as that might be. If you’re trying to change your partner, stop it.

You should go if:
There is any physical, verbal or emotional abuse. (Channeling the scary voice from the Amityville Horror) Get Out!

You should stay if:
You understand that there are trade offs in a relationship. Bottom line, you’re gonna love some things about your sweetie and there will be some things that will drive you crazier than an itchy man up a wool tree. Sometimes frustration and love walk hand in hand.

You should go if:
He or she is overly controlling, checking your email, obtaining your passwords, going through your phone. Checking the odometer and having you report your gas mileage (oh yes! It has happened!) is completely over the top. It’s time to go. Jealously and possessiveness means there’s no trust. It’s not cute. It doesn’t mean they love you. Pack your bags.

You should stay if:
You understand that that there will some issues that the pair of you will totally disagree on. And you won’t even agree on what that issue is. What you can do is identify it and accept it and move on.

You should go when:
You’re afraid to say what you need or your needs don’t get met without herculean effort. It shouldn’t be that hard. Relationships are a mutual thing. Everyone should get their needs met and it shouldn’t take an argument for that to happen.

You should stay if:
You are able to take responsibility for your own happiness (not to be confused with getting your needs met). You should be able to discuss your dreams and goals, while remembering these are YOUR dreams and it is not up to your partner to make it happen. You should be supportive of their dreams and goals as well.

You should also stay if:
The sex is still sexy. Not the sole reason to stay however.

You should stay if:
You can remember the moment you connected. The moment you knew that this person was someone special. When it gets hard or frustrating that’s the moment you come back to.

You should think about it when
Infidelity occurs. (I heard you, you just called me crazy!) Seriously, I’ve seen relationships survive this and come out stronger. I don’t believe it’s always a deal breaker. Need help with this one? I’ll take those questions on a case by case basis. Write me!

Love strong!

– Brenda

Brenda on Grief, Loss and Moving Through

Dear Brenda,

My nephew and his best friend died in a car accident on September 4th of last year. My nephew was 20 years old and was a good man and son. My sister lives in Daly City, CA (bay area or San Francisco area) and she is very devastated over what happened. She cries everyday and calls me. I am here in Los Angeles and I do not know how to console her. At times, she is very angry and I understand her very well. She’s going to a grief therapist but she said it is not enough. She also said that it is very hard especially at night and early in the morning. What should I do? I myself am also grieving and need help. Please advise.

Dear Grieving,

Loss. I put a period at the end of that word because of the finality of it. A life or a relationship is over. A door has closed and there is no going back. And often that’s what we want to do. Instead we’re turned on our heel, faced in another direction and often we feel we’re standing alone.

The wound we carry from the loss can be a deep gaping thing that refuses to close or be filled. At first we fill it with the administrative tasks that come with death or loss, the paperwork and packing away of things, the phone calls. All the while we ache for their footsteps at the front door, the timbre of their voice vibrating in our ear, their scent in the hallway. The wound doesn’t heal, according to Rose Kennedy it scars over, but we still feel the loss. The pain clutches our heart unexpectedly. Often. It sounds as if that’s what happening to your sister.

We’ve heard of the Kubler-Ross model of dealing with death and tragedy, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some folk get stuck in any of these stages. Some folk never make it to acceptance. Everyone is different and there is no timetable for any of this.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s been a year. It might take two and that’s okay.

I found the following sites where you can create an online memorial for your nephew. You can also create an iMemory book in his honor. Doing this can help you and your sister process and work through the grief.

Memory of

Virtual Memories

Rest in Peace

– Brenda

Brenda answers: Am I in a healthy relationship?

Dear Brenda,

How do I know if I’m in a healthy relationship?

Dear Relationship Curious,

Do you like you? Because that’s where it all begins, if you don’t love you, no one else can.

A couple of marriages ago (Yes I mean more than two) I married a man I had no business marrying. But I was young and thought I knew everything. I wasn’t ready for a relationship with anyone else, because I hadn’t had a relationship with myself. I thought it was about sex. But soon learned that there were others who gave better “room service” than me. I thought it was all about showing him how much I loved him. Buzz. Wrong answer.

“How do you expect me to love you, when you don’t love yourself?” He said once during one of our chats. The light went on, but I still didn’t get it.

With husband number two I actually took the advice of a radio talk show host Dr.Toni Grant (don’t judge me!), who advised women to “return to their traditional roles” so I cooked, cleaned and had scheduled sex (to make sure HIS needs were met) until I burned out and I was bored out of my skull with the mundane life I’d chosen. And finally, we stood in front of judge and called it quits. I’d stopped being me. And it made me damn unhappy.

So when I say, it starts with you, I mean it. It does.

A healthy relationship means that you don’t mind hanging out with yourself. You think you’re pretty cool. And while it’s great to hear others say that, deep down you already own it.

A healthy relationship means you and your partner listen to each other, are patient with each other. You feel special, appreciated and loved.

In a healthy relationship you get to be you. There is no pretending, no folding you up to make yourself fit into the other person’s life. You get to be honest about your boundaries, diseases, likes and dislikes, political affiliation, favorite sports team, spiritual practice. You get the picture. You get to be you without judgment. And while you don’t have to do a full accounting of your life, the decisions you’ve made and the consequences you’ve endured, honesty rules.

A healthy relationship is a partnership. Let me say for the record that no one likes housework. Don’t be a slob, pick up after yourself. Share in the drudgery that is housework. When you don’t, resentment builds and that is slippery slope towards nowhere good. Also, financial decisions should be mutual and both partners should benefit in some way.

People laugh together in healthy relationships and have things in common that they enjoy together and some things they do by themselves. For the love of all things good let your partner have some “me” time or it will get boring and someone will become resentful. Have a hobby, friends, and time separate from your partner and with your partner as well.

People fight fairly in healthy relationships. They listen, they set boundaries, they respect boundaries, they communicate their needs, and they feel heard. They are honest, they forgive, they negotiate, they let go of things and move forward.

A healthy relationship is exclusive and inclusive. You both are exclusive to one another. No one else is in the relationship. The flip side of that is that you are both inclusive of family and friends. It’s not about just the two of you all of the time. That’s called an addictive relationship. And you don’t want that. Can someone say potential stalker?

So Curious, I hope that answers your question. Did I leave something out? Or is your view of a healthy relationship different? Alright readers, chime in.



Divorce. Handle it!

Dear Brenda,

I’ve been separated from my husband for about two years. One day he picked up his things and left. We’re now going through the divorce process. I have three children with him. He doesn’t help me with them. He doesn’t pay child support or ever see them. He was physically abusive, but now he is just mentally abusive and verbally abusive.

I’ve become involved with a man who has been a family friend for years and our feelings are developing into something that I’ve longed for, for so long. I love him and my children love him, but my problem is that now that my husband knows about him, he wants to make the divorce difficult by fighting for the kids. He’s placed in the temporary divorce orders that I can’t have any one of the opposite sex in my home between certain hours. I’ve complied but how do I deal with the mental abuse he continues to give my kids and I? He’s constantly telling the kids that if they see my boyfriend at the house after a certain time to call him. He calls me and tells me things like “he’s taking advantage of you,” and “how can you do this to me and the kids.”

When he left, he was gone for 2 1/2 months and didn’t make one phone call to us. NOTHING! And now he doesn’t even pay child support or see the children. My boyfriend and I take the kids to the park, to the movies, and out to eat. I have more of a family environment now than when their dad was in the picture.

What to do to handle the situation the right way?

Dear Handle It The Right Way,

Handling it the right way means that you need to set limits and boundaries when it comes to the children especially if he is being mentally and verbally abusive. It sounds as if you have a lawyer and I hope your lawyer knows that there was physical, mental and verbal abuse in the home and if it is continuing.

Your children are not spies and should not be treated as such. This sends a negative message and is very hard on them. You can try telling your ex, but it probably won’t do any good. However, you don’t have to listen to the garbage he spews when he calls. You are not a dumping ground. Simply set the phone down and return to hang it up later.

Please remember that “you” didn’t do anything to him and kids. Remind yourself that he needs mental help. And yes, it’s easy to fall into the guilt trap around divorce and abuse and that pesky “I shoulda, coulda, woulda” crap, so yes, you chose this person and had children and now you have to dismantle this thing. Yes, divorce is hard, now let’s move forward.

How do you handle it? Handle it with compassion. Handle it by speaking up. Handle it by remembering how powerful silence is. Handle it by taking steps to make sure you and your children are safe. Handle it by remembering this isn’t war, and that after taking this relationship apart, you’re going to have to put it back together. Handle by caring for yourself and honoring your boundaries. Some days you might have to handle it with a good cry.

Now handle it!

– Brenda

Exercise Your Mind and Your Body Will Follow

Hi Brenda,

I am a 14-year-old-girl and I am obese. I have tried my best to do all sorts of diets and I used to go to the gym twice a week, but nothing worked out.

In school people make fun of me and tease me behind my back. My best friends have started to ignore me and they don’t even answer my calls. Please tell me what to do.

Dear I-Am-Obese,

Let me start by saying that you are a beautiful work in progress and that weight loss doesn’t start in the gym or with diets. Good health begins with your thoughts. Right now you should know that you are perfect as you are and those kids that choose to tease you are just jack-holes.

When it comes to food and exercise adults have the most choices, they usually buy and cook the food for the home. As a teenager, you’re about halfway there. I’m just assuming at this point that you don’t make food choices for the entire family, but you do have the ability to make some choices. And ‘choice’ is the key word here.

Here it is, you change the outside by first changing the inside. The first thing you exercise is your choice. Ask yourself why do you eat. After people tease you do you grab a candy bar? When your friends don’t answer your calls do you go get something to eat? If those actions trigger a desire for food you might be an emotional eater. Sometimes we’re afraid to tell others how we really feel, that we’re angry, or that we’re sad or our feelings were hurt and we choose to eat instead. Not everyone who puts on extra weight is an emotional eater, some people simply consume too many calories and don’t exercise enough and there are no “feelings” connected to the food, they simply like to eat. But I was talking about choices right? Yes. Moment to moment you have the power to make choices about what you’re going to eat and how much of it you’re going to eat. You have the choice to dance or sit in front of the television. You have the choice to choose a fruit or chips to snack on. Right now you are making a choice whether or not what I’m saying is total crap or if any of it rings true. That space right there is where you have the power to make real changes.

What do you want your life to look like? Are you happy and smiling? Smile now. Are you outdoors, walking and enjoying nature? Take a walk now.

Make choices that move you toward the life you envision for yourself. Exercise your mind and your body will follow. I’m rooting for you!

– Brenda

Should You Stay With Your Mentally Ill Partner?

Dear Brenda,

My retired army husband has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and delusional disorders. He refuses to go the doctor or take medication. He has been hospitalized several times and arrested twice and always has the same outcome, he comes home and quits meds, starts drinking again and everything goes downhill fast.

We were separated for 6 months and he is on probation until April 11, 2011. After he came home I told him he had to have a job and stop being so out of control. So he had a job for a year and quit it last week. Now I am back where I started.

He blames everything on me, the economy, the death of his grandparents and parents, the death of my father and brother, both of whom died of cancer. When his parents died, they were in Florida and I was in Maryland… still my fault. He gets angry and starts “lecturing” or screaming at me and it will go on for 5 or 6 hours, unless I leave.

How do I make that break? My kids are grown and since this has been going on for over 10 years, they understand for the most part. I have a retainer with a lawyer; this is just a very hard decision.

– Hard to make a the break

Dear Hard To Make That Break,

Author Alice Walker once said, “Women are the mules of the world.” We take on so much, we care and nurture, and sometimes we crumble under the weight. Being the primary caregiver for a person who has a mental illness is a tremendous responsibility.

I do have some questions. Is the behavior caused by the mental illness the only reason you want to divorce him? When he takes his medication are you able to live with him, love him? Do you have any help at all from his family or your children? Obviously you’ve given this some thought; yet you don’t list them here, so I’m curious what they are. Have you thought through what your life would look without him? Will you feel guilty for leaving? Can you live with that? Can you live yourself if something unspeakable happens? Would you consider a separation? Can you live far enough away to have some peace and quality to your life while also being close enough that if you are needed to sign him into a facility you are able to do so? What about his family? Do you have any support? Quite possibly without you there he might spin out and end up in a place where he must take his medication.

Obviously I can’t answer this question for you, but I hope I’ve given you some things to think about. If you don’t do anything just yet, please do one thing, join a caregiver support group.

I must also say that just because a person has a mental illness, doesn’t give them license to treat their loved ones like crap.

Here are some links that you might find helpful.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Mental Health America

Crisis Help (For support group information) 1-800-273-TALK

All the best to you.


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