Dear Lisa:

We have a blended family with his kids and my son. We're having some problems with sharing. Should I force my son to share his belongings? Should his children have free rein of my son's belongings when he isn't home? My rule is that my son cannot play with their toys unless they are there to ask or unless their father says it's okay. My husband allowed his three boys to ride my son's dirt bike while we were not home. He didn't ask me or my son. The last time they rode it, it broke and no one has bothered to repair it. His boys now have their own which they ride in front of my son. This hurts me terribly. My son is scared to ride theirs because it's bigger. But at first they didn't offer, until I complained and then they use the excuse that he doesn't know how to ride it. I feel their father should try to teach him --or offer to repair his bike. And when it's fixed I don't feel they should be allowed to ride it without asking my or my son's permission. Is this wrong?

His children receive a lot of things from their Mom's side (expensive things that we just cannot afford) and I am wondering: Is it expected or proper that we spend the same amount on them as my son, who only has me to provide for him? If I wanted to buy him some extra special gift, am I being unfair to my husband's children? I am so overwhelmed and confused.

Thanks,
B.G.


Dear B.G.:

Sharing is a very tricky issue when you have "his" and "hers" kids, especially when one set of children has parents with more financial resources.

Says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of "Women of Divorce: Mothers, Daughters, Stepmothers: The New Triangle," "It's very difficult for a mother to treat her stepchild as she'd treat her own child. There are times when the relationship with one's own child clearly takes precedence and hopefully the husband will understand (and do the same for his own children)." It's okay to give your own child a special gift occasionally. It ensures that the child has a separate and special relationship with his biological mother." I'd like to add that it's okay to spend one-on-one time with your biological child. In fact, it's important to do this—and to allow your husband to spend one-on-one time with his biological children.

In fact, the notion that everyone in a stepfamily should share everything equally (and spend all their time together) is what I call a "Brady Bunch" myth. When parents have these expectations, they often struggle in stepfamilies. That's because they're not addressing the individual needs of the family members.

We address this issue in our own book, "One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies" (www.stepfamilyadvice.com). In the book, we relate how and why our own stepfamily opted for "his and hers" refrigerators and some different rules for "his" and "hers" kids. We had different parenting values, and there was no way we could immediately choose one set of values over the other. For example, my stepkids attend private schools, and my kids do not. If we embraced the "Brady Bunch myth," all our kids would either attend private or public schools. This would be a bad idea, because we wouldn't be addressing our children's individual needs.

As far as sharing toys, you and your husband need to sit down and develop a set of rules about sharing, says Barash.

"What works for one set of children should be applied to the other set in these situations and the parents have to be fair to both, and set an example," Barash says.

Maybe you'll decide that the kids have to ask each other first before borrowing toys or belongings. Maybe you'll decide that all the kids can deny their stepsiblings access to "special" or "new" toys. Whatever you decide, you should be clear and consistent about it.

As you're setting these rules, be sure to keep in mind the needs and personalities of all the children. Don't impose one family's values on the other family. You may find that you'll need to keep evaluating your rules and discussing them with all the kids.

Good luck and keep in touch.

Best,
Lisa