Spending Money on Stepchildren

by TTMK on December 10, 2012 · 14 comments

When many of us are looking for a partner, and thinking of getting married, there is some kind of standard narrative at play.  Meet someone attractive and fun, someone who you really enjoy spending time with. A person who shares your values and with whom you can see spending the rest of your life.  Perhaps even having a family.

The fairly tale doesn’t necessarily include the idea of a built-in family, where there are stepchildren involved.  How many people have this as a part of their vision?  My guess is that not many do.  It’s just the way it is.

However, as we get older, we tend to gain life experience.  For some people, a part of that life experience is becoming a parent.  It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do, and one of the biggest responsibilities you could take on.  Really, could really be more important to someone than their own children? Personally, I find it hard to imagine finding anything more important.

This makes the idea of becoming a stepparent one that involves understanding that the person you married has children that are a major responsibility – in terms of providing for them, handling their emotional development, and many other things.  It’s the most important job the person you married will have in life.

Having said all that, this makes a particular situation I know about quite hard to understand.  There is a couple I know where the two people got married with the man having custody of a young child.  The woman did not have kids of her own.

Apparently, when dating and in many detailed conversations, it was mutually understood that the guy had a major responsibility for his kid, and was a devoted parent.  This meant handling all aspects of parenting, including – quite naturally – spending money on the child.

Well, once married, the woman had a difficult time sharing money, and having joint finances in marriage. This wasn’t something she indicated would be an issue before, apparently, but she couldn’t handle income being spent on the child.  Thus, she kept her finances separate, with paychecks going to a personal account.  Her income may actually be higher than his, not that it necessarily matters, but just something to consider.

Without getting to into too many details, some of behaviors of this stepparent that would catch your attention were:

  • Insisting that the husband personally pay for more housing than her – as in a 60/40 split – because of the presence of his kid.
  • Making him pay for a majority of utility bills because theoretically the kid could result in extra electricity or water costs
  • Getting angry at him if he bought new clothes for the kid, demanding that he return them and stretch older clothes for another season
  • Throwing fits if he wanted to sign the child up for more than one extracurricular activity
  • Becoming very upset and screaming over his spending money even $100 on Christmas gifts for the kid
  • Generally expecting to be the #1 priority in his life, ahead of his kid

Her overarching thought was that he should be the primary breadwinner, and responsible to take care of his family – including her.  However, her money isn’t to be used on the kid.

My thoughts?

  • This is entirely crazy bonkers wrong to treat a stepchild that way.
  • A single parent – man or woman – should get some empathy for their hard work.
  • A stepparent should “step” up and try to help her (or his) spouse
  • It’s perfectly understandble to prefer to marry a person with no kids, but if you actually do it, you need to embrace them – to be a good person, and to have basic consideration for your spouse
  • Nobody should be jealous of a child in this way
  • A child shouldn’t be put on the back-burner financially (or otherwise) by any parent, just because it isn’t a biological child of the new spouse that’s a stepparent
  • Money earned by both husband and wife should be shared together, and used to support the family – including stepchildren.

Bottom line: When two people marry, they become a family. A kid is a part of that family, whether biological to both or just to one.  If a person can’t fully accept the reality that their spouse will spend on kids – then don’t marry the person, or be ready to fully accept it. Kids deserve kindness, patience, and love.

What Do You Think?

In this situation, do you think the biological parent has a legit reason to be stressed about his spouse’s behavior as a stepparent?

Or, do you think that the stepparent has a valid outlook on this?

Purely hypothetical here: how would you handle this topic, and approach money and family, based on playing either role here (biological parent or stepparent)?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily @ evolvingPF December 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Wow, what a major marriage problem. This is an ultimate argument against separate finances.

I think compromise is in order (as well as joint money). The step-parent shouldn’t dominate the spending decisions for the child but neither does the biological parent hold a trump card once the new family is formed.

I have a rough time thinking about blended families. In a traditional nuclear family, I think the marriage should come before the children. Once a divorce or death occurs, the kids move up to the #1 spot. With a new marriage, I think the marriage should resume primacy but I can see how that would be difficult to implement, especially if the children have been given preference for a number of years. All this just goes to emphasize that you should to be extremely cautious in choosing to marry, whether you have kids already or not.

Reply

TTMK December 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Emily – I think your comment is quite insightful, really. There is a balance, and some of this does change as family dynamics change. It’s important to be very cautious when marrying, absolutely. In this case, I think the stepparent needs to be an adult and not behave so poorly with a child. No child deserves to be treated as, or feel like, the proverbial “just a stepchild”.

Reply

AverageJoe December 10, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Interesting. I had clients where the step mother didn’t get along with the step children, but it was a two way street: they treated her like dirt and she returned every bit of the sentiment. Ultimately their relationship ended the way I believe this one will: in divorce. When you’re married you take the whole team. If you aren’t ready for the baggage, why waste your life yelling about a piece of the guy’s life that he’ll never give up?

Reply

TTMK December 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Average Joe – two way streets sound unfortunate all around. That’s too bad. In this case, I totally agree with your point, that the whole team comes with, and most people thankfully would never give up kids for a partner.

Reply

The College Investor December 11, 2012 at 1:02 am

Being a step-child, and being treated in a similar way by the step-parent, I just think its wrong. It makes you, as a child, feel not welcome in the household. I know I never wanted to go over to that house, and instead stay with my mom. Now that I’m older, I don’t talk to my stepmother ever, and only sparsely to my dad. It really made for a bad situation.

If I was a step-parent, I would treat the child as an equal and part of my family, including money. Everything in one pot is my philosophy on marriage and household finances.

Reply

TTMK December 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Robert – thanks for sharing your own personal angle. Sorry you had to go through that, it sounds very unfair. The end result of such things is probably what you’re describing, where a relationship with the actual parent suffers when the stepparent behaves unwelcoming. That’s great that you can see the impact of such behavior, and would treat a child equally. I agree with your philosophy.

Reply

Savvy Scot December 11, 2012 at 5:02 am

To be perfectly honest… I think that the marriage may have been a big mistake… She is clearly bitter!

Reply

TTMK December 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Savvy Scot – it sure seems weird to be bitter about a stepchild, especially since the person knew the kid existed and the parent has responsibilities, but bitter it just might seem!

Reply

Christopher @ This that and the MBA December 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

Must be why most the dating ads specify no baggage….As some have had experience with this type of situation….It is tough all around bringing children into a new situation….but she needs to realize that no matter what he isnt going to move on without them…and they need to work together to make their home a household!

Reply

TTMK December 11, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Christopher – especially when the parent has custody, no way he (or she, in the case of mothers) would move on without their own kids. That’s the biggest responsiblity, taking care of your children.

Reply

Goldeneer December 11, 2012 at 11:26 am

Very interesting insight.
I’ve never been part of a blended family but have seen the repercussions of one. My views on a marriage is all kids, step or not, should be treated equally and the marriage should come first, not the individual. It appears as though this woman was not ready to get married.

A parent’s expense is closely related to their priorities. If the parent is not spending their share on their step kid or husband, then their family is not a priority. This is a sure way to build a toxic relationship with your husband and step child.

I have close family that consist of a blended family. The woman’s views are that marriage is incredibly important, especially for the kids. Yet this woman favouritizes her biological daughter and expects her step daughters to serve her biological daughter first. The husband has treated her kids like his own and has put significant finances into their upbringing. There is resentment between the kids because of her behaviour.

Reply

TTMK December 11, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Goldeneer –

I agree that kids should be equal and that the individual (grown up) shouldn’t come first. Also, you have a very interesting observation about how expenses can be related to priorities. If someone won’t spend on a spouse and stepkid as most spouses would on their own family, then clearly there’s an issue where the two people aren’t a priority.

As for your story, that’s simply mindboggling that she would expect her husband to tolerate her own kid being favored over his own kids. How could anyone expect their own child to be treated as a priority over their spouse’s child in a blended family? Hard to get the mindset of some folks. Anyway, thanks for sharing and the comment!

Reply

Aloysa @ My Broken Coin December 11, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Interesting. My husband’s father has two stepchildren, and he treats them better than his own children. He takes them on vacation, he gives them money, he solves their children’s (his step grandchildren) problems. We talk to him about three times a year. :) I guess every family has their own story.

Reply

TTMK December 11, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Aloysa – well, on the one hand it’s good that he’s nice to them. However, nicer to them than his own kids? Seems unfair, and analagous to stepparent behavior in this post. Anyway, hope you don’t mind my voicing the opinion.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: