Winning As A Stepfamily
Stepfamilies are hard work. The tact and patience they require seem almost beyond the power of mere mortals. "Afterall, it isn't the children who fell in love with this outsider or gave this interloper permission to take up half of the true parent's attention." And to make matters worse, the stepparent tends to arrive at a time when parents and children have become unusually close. So stepparents tend to provoke jealousy and resentment. If you live in a stepfamily, it may have gotten off to a rocky start, but try not to give up hope.
According to figures collected by the Stepfamily Foundation, some fifty million Americans are involved in a stepfamily relationship. One out of six children lives with a stepparent. The simple math of four parents and eight grandparents can lead to situations that are anything but simple emotionally.
Each child will react differently to becoming part of a stepfamily. Problems for blended families seem to be greater if the father has custody of his children or one or more of the children are teenagers. Conflict also seems greater if a stepmother has no children of her own or if the father tends to be passive.
Blended families usually experience age-related reactions. Consistency is critical for preschoolers. Infants will adjust well if care is consistent. preschoolers believe in "magic" and often think their original family will reunite.
Children ages 6 - 12 years often feel guilty, depressed or helpless. Many fantasize on having their family reunite. They need to feel some control over their live - - like deciding what to wear, how to cut their hair, and making decisions about chores or friends.
Teens will feel conflicts as they want their freedom - - but without responsibility. They will sometimes revert back to tasks and responsibilities of an earlier age, especially if a new parent takes over things they had assumed. Some teens withdraw or rebel. Many consider parents as non-sexual beings. Some teens may want to visit both parents or reconsider custody.
Several problem areas can cause conflict in blending families. Children will often feel the loss of a parent for years. Remarriage or moving away ends the hope for reuniting of their family. When one parent has died, children will often sense betrayal if the living parent remarries. Children need time, patience and assurance to deal with their feelings.
Divided loyalties can occur when children can't handle the separation from a natural parent. Grandparents can influence loyalties, for example if they give "better" gifts to their real grandchildren. It is not fair to make children take sides. Children need to feel they belong. Their security may be challenged when many changes take place with new relationships, such as sharing a room or moving to a new home. When children visit the non-custodial parent, it may help to provide a special drawer that's always theirs. The parent may want to plan a special time alone with them, and maintain their privileges and responsibilities while they are there. Often children will find themselves under two sets of rules. This causes confusion and often rebellion. Parents should not use "not visiting" as a punishment.
Relating to a stepparent can be difficult for a child. But parents and stepparents can do much to ease the adjustment. Sometimes when the emotional seas seem particularly stormy, it's helpful to focus on practical suggestions. Here are some things to remember:
* Respect the children's allegiance to the absent parent. This is especially important when they begin to show signs of liking their new stepparent. If the other parent hasn't remarried, kids may feel that it's disloyal to enjoy themselves in the new stepfamily.
* Allow kids to express their objections. Children may not feel as happy and optimistic about the new stepfamily as you do. You can't force children to share your sentiments. You might encourage them to vent their feelings by writing their feelings down. A god book you might purchase for this purpose is, Me and My Stepfamily, A Kid's Journal, by Ann Banks.
* Make sure the adults keep communicating, too. Parents and stepparents need to air their own gripes and come up with solutions to problems.
* Encourage children to stick up for themselves - and help them learn to do it respectfully. It's important for kids to be able to talk about what's bothering them. If you, as an adult, can talk about your problems, this sets an example for the children.
* Don't make an issue over what the children will call the new stepparent. Let them choose whatever they feel is comfortable. Think of ways to smooth over the awkwardness of public introductions.
* Plan family activities involving not only all family members together, but also different groupings separately. This helps all members to feel special.
* Ask your parents to accept the stepchildren. Grandparents are very important to the unity of the stepfamily.
* Flexibility is a must. Because of the differences that exist, stepfamilies have to try harder to be more flexible.
* Don't try too hard. This can cause stronger resistance from the stepchildren. Relax and take things slowly.