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Ask Yourself

* Is living in a Blended Family or a Stepfamily “more than you bargained for?”

* Does step parenting feel like the most challenging and thankless job of all?

* Is the tension and conflict taking its toll on your relationships

* Are you becoming worried about your children and their well-being?

* Are you constantly arguing with your partner about the kids, discipline and parenting in general?

• Is your ex or your partner's ex causing real problems in your blended family and in your relationship

• Are you at the end of your rope and need some answers NOW

* Are you considering entering into a Blended Family or Stepfamily and want to be prepared?

The 'Love' Word

2008-10-09

Step Institute

Countless times we see stepparents in stepfamilies and blended families, having real difficulty engaging with their stepchildren, often withdrawing or seemingly even ignoring them. This is often perceived by the biological parent as rejection and begins to stir up a lot of emotions for both the biological parent and the stepparent. Guilt, anger, bewilderment, frustration, disappointment, resentment, these are just a few of the emotions many stepparents report experiencing as they find themselves in the midst of their new family. And perhaps the reality for many is that they don't feel that this is their family at all. The good news in all of this is that you aren't wrong to feel that way, nor are you a bad or uncaring person. Probably just the opposite is true, or you would have never considered taking on the responsibility of someone else's children in the first place. The key to moving this forward in a positive direction, is to not stop here, to not simply stay with the feelings. The solution is to acknowledge your true feelings and seek out the answers and support that will help you move forward. And most importantly, begin to believe with everything in you that you have the power and the ability to take this situation and make it into something worthwhile and wonderful for everyone.

A simple little phrase that seems to bring so much relief and release to stepparents, whether they've been in the job for 1 month or 10 years, is "You don't have to LOVE your stepchildren to be a good stepparent to them". If this were the prerequisite then most of us would be completely lousy stepparents. The pressure to LOVE your partner's children, whether it comes from within, from your partner, from friends and family, or even society as a whole, is a tremendous burden that most of us face along the journey at some point, and more often than not it serves to drive a wedge between partners and between stepparents and children.

LOVE is a subjective term and can be defined a million different ways, but so often we equate it with a strong feeling, or yearning for, or bond that we experience in the presence of another person. The best example of this is the feelings we share with our own biological children; this is a completely natural, biological experience, which begins in infancy, and with nurturing grows over time. Adoptive parents have similar bonding experiences and feelings for their children who they "choose" to bring into their lives and often when they are very young which also complements the bonding process. Rarely do stepparents get to enjoy the experience of bonding with their stepchildren at such a young age. More often, we come into their lives after they have been through a particularly stressful or traumatic period. What our stepchildren need at the point we enter in, and what we can offer them is our unconditional support and caring, as well as guidance, security and reassurance. Even if we don't feel that connection or that bond, we have much we can offer them that will contribute to their health, happiness and well-being.

The feelings that we equate with love may come in time, and then again they may not, but one thing is for certain, that pressuring ourselves to feel something we don't, will only get in the way of us having a meaningful relationship with that child. If we wait for the feelings to come before we initiate a relationship, then it may never happen. Letting go of the need to "feel" a certain way, actually releases us and frees us to act towards our stepchildren in a loving way that in turn may allow the connection to become stronger over time. Surely it is an act of love to take responsibility and to care for someone else's child, and most of us do this at least initially, out of love for our partner. If it helps, perhaps we can redefine love in this context so that it is more about the commitment we make to our stepchildren, then the feelings we have, which may open the door to both growing over time. So go ahead and begin to build those relationships with your stepchildren and take some satisfaction in knowing that your investment in them is an absolutely invaluable gift to them, to your family and to yourself.

ACTION STEP:

As a stepparent, the first step is to stop pressuring yourself to have feelings for you stepchildren that you simply don't have. If the feelings come it will usually happen over time and as the relationship develops. Extend yourself to them, build a friendship and work with your partner to define the parental role you will take in their lives. Be a part of their lives, make times for just you and your stepchildren as part of your regular routine and enjoy them without the pressure of needing to feel a particular way. Each memory you create together will be one step along the way to creating intimate relationships.

RESOURCES:

There are many good resources for stepmothers and stepfathers that will help you to build a strong relationship with your stepchildren. Two I will suggest are: "The Enlightened Stepmother" by Perdita Kirkness Norwood and "Keys to Successful Stepfathering" by Carl E. Pickhardt, Pd.D.

If your relationship with your stepchildren is strained or characterized by conflict at this point, the above books will also be helpful. If you feel that at this point you are "enduring" your stepchildren more than "enjoying them", then put your efforts into maintaining a constant presence in their lives, extending yourself and reassuring them that you are there for them and this more than anything will show them that they can trust you. Relationships of this nature take time and perseverance, so keep reminding yourself that the work you're doing now is an investment in the future. Also, make sure you are taking care of yourself and that you and your partner are nurturing your relationship. These are also gifts to your children and stepchildren. Creating a stable, loving home can actually be the greatest gift of all. And always remember to seek counseling if the demands of the situation seem beyond your capacity at this time.

 

 

 

 

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