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Blended Families – The "L" Family and Its Lessons
To promote healthy interactions with the stepfamily, I share experiences from my practice. As always in professional writing, identifying information has been changed. The following stories weave together the challenges of stepfamilies into narrative-based lessons. I begin with a story from the meeting of one couple to the moment of radical change in their lives. Lucille, a nurse, and Larry, an accountant, both in their 30s, came up to me. Lucille was initially single, while Larry was divorced with a 5-year-old son, Louis. Larry was a full-time parent to Louise, whose mother had recently come out as a lesbian and subsequently abandoned the two of them.
Larry was studying for the CPA exam when he met Lucille, spending as much time as possible with Louis, even putting off the phone calls and the dishes until the boy fell asleep. When Larry met Lucille, he continued to make parenting his son a priority and did not bring Lucille into the house until their relationship was well established. Lucille was very loving to Louis, and the two adults worked to repair the damage caused by the first wife’s difficult choices.
Soon things changed drastically: Larry went to work, with long hours, to climb the career ladder. Lucille was dissatisfied with her job and retired once Larry had a good income. This left Lucille as the full-time parent of Louis.
She initially enjoyed the role, preparing healthy school lunches and cooking fancy dinners, volunteering as a room mother at Louis’ private school and even starting a local mums’ group. They both moved into a fancy apartment in a fancy part of town and Lucille felt frustrated with Louis as she tried to keep the place clean and fancy and he seemed to drag dirt and drop crumbs wherever he went.
This move added time to Larry’s commute, and as Larry became more successful and left work later and later, Lucille began to resent carpooling, complaining about notes from teachers, the constant tightening of her schedule because she had to be home by 4:00. to meet Louis. She gradually became more irritable with Louise and communicated her frustrations with the child to Larry via e-mails at work and after he returned home at night. She blamed him for making Louis self-centered by putting off chores until he went to bed. Louis’ mother, far less wealthy than Larry and Lucille, stopped all child support, leading to further feelings of resentment and resentment.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, Lucille became pregnant.
The pregnancy certainly did not improve relations between Lucille and her stepson. She became more. frustrated with him, she insisted that his father put him in after-school programs and find someone to also take over her extensive carpooling duties.
The crisis came the night before Louis’s spring break, Louis was throwing a ball – as he’d been told so many times not to do – and lunged, tripping over Lilly’s baby seat and both kids sprawled out screaming. .
When Larry arrived home, Lucille made it very clear to her husband what was going to happen. Larry took her son to work every day of the vacation because she had no intention of having Louis around, disturbing and disturbing, every day for a week.
Now let’s take a step back and think about how best to avoid this scenario from the start. Some of these ideas are based on How to win as a stepfamily by Emily and John Visher. So some lessons for the step parent:
Don’t go for overbearing, overwhelming stepchildren and create expectations you can’t meet. Hold back and let your stepchildren get close to you.
Realize that the relationship between you and your stepchildren is still forming. If you say you love them right from the start, they often won’t believe you and may discredit other things you say.
Remember that stepchildren will be different from children raised by you. If you try to mold them in the image of your children, it will hinder the development of a good relationship with them. Household rules simply cannot make a person take on a new form. Stepchildren often end up absorbing some of the new patterns you want them to adapt to – but at their own speed.
Find out what your stepchildren like and try to make them available, such as a basketball net or a favorite drink.
Do things with stepchildren on your own without their parents – something you both enjoy and are good at.
The fact is, you will feel differently about your stepchildren than you will about your own children. And your stepchildren will feel differently about you than they did about their own parents. Time can create a very special relationship if you accept that the feelings are different in the beginning and simply cannot be forced.
Likewise, accept that your reaction to your own child and your husband’s reaction to your “darling 6-year-old” will be different. Support your spouse as they begin to interact with your children.
Avoid areas marked out by the child’s own parent. If your stepson says, “Daddy says he’s going to teach me to sail,” don’t run to the nearest boatyard.
Sometimes it can take until adulthood for stepchildren to realize the nurturing and special qualities of a stepparent. Be patient.
Do not ridicule or criticize the other biological parent. That parent is, not just chromosomally speaking, a half child, so you are really attacking the child. Keep information about that parent’s love life and financial situation away from the child until the parent informs the child.
Don’t try to win over your stepchild with bribes—gifts, special trips, etc.—if your home is more financially comfortable than the other parent’s home. This can backfire as children can identify with the underdog.
Avoid the “romantic antidote wedding fantasy”: my dear other’s first wife/husband was so bad that our new marriage will cure everything.
And finally, discipline. It’s hard here now. But during the first 18-24 months of marriage, think of your interaction with your stepchildren more like that of a camp counselor with his/her camper. Be there for their safety – but not necessarily for coercion. Only after the marriage is solid and you have come to know your stepchildren as people – as they have come to you – should you take an active role in disciplining them.
If you can follow some of these tips, you’re well on your way to making the “mine” and “yours” that are part of a new marriage with kids a part of a complete, well, “ours.”
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