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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?

Moving In and Out of Children's Lives


Step Institute

There is a new movement afoot. It is the movement in and out of our children's lives that we as adults are involved in and although we have yet to understand what the full impact of this will be on them; we can only begin to imagine the devastation. There are different forms of movement, the first one being the movement that occurs when biological parents separate or divorce. Usually this involves a move on the part of one parent, and less time or availability with the children involved. However, the majority of parents understand the need to stay involved and connected with their children even if it is on a part-time basis, and again, the motivating factor to do so is based largely on the parents' own need and desire to remain connected to their own biological children.

But what happens when the stepfamily or blended family reaches a point of breakdown, and parents separate or divorce. Typically, children remain with the biological parent and the stepparent, who has played the all-important role of parent to their partner's children, often leaves with little or no promise of involvement with the children after that. Depending on the type of break up, adults may choose not to stay in touch at all. In a nuclear family break-up, parents usually make it a priority to maintain contact and keep the lines of communication open to facilitate the co-parenting of their children. And for the most part, they continue to parent their children even if it is part-time or from afar. As a result, the tie and the bond that exists between the children with the parent who has left, remains intact as much as possible.

In the stepfamily or blended family household, the children who have come to establish a connection with, dependence on, or affection for a stepparent, can lose all of that when he/she leaves. For children who may have also come to establish relationships with step siblings, this can represent another loss in their lives. And for children who have already been through the devastation of an original family break up, or the death of one parent, this can be at the very least, more of the same devastation. As many children often blame themselves for family break-up, having had this happen more than once may reinstate or affirm their worst fears, that they are simply "bad" or "unlovable" and that is why people keep leaving them. It is important to look at this issue, not to instill guilt but to bring about awareness for all of us as stepparents, that we are playing absolutely critical roles in the lives of these young people. Coming in and out of their lives as if what we have to offer is not that important because we are not the biological parents, is simply a painful and mistaken assumption, that leaves behind a trail of broken hearted and rejected children.

As stepparents, each of us needs to appreciate the importance we can have in our stepchildren's lives as caring individuals, role models and parental figures. We can be motivated by realizing the critical impact we have in our stepchildren's lives. This is true when we take a place in their family, and equally true when and if we choose to take our leave from their family. A commitment to a partner is not always for life, but a commitment to children who have come to rely on us, should never be broken if at all possible. Although the blood bond does not exist, when children build a trust and a relationship with a stepparent, the loss of that person can be just as hurtful and devastating. On the other hand, if we can maintain a relationship with them, reassure them that they are not at fault, and work together with their biological parent, to establish some form of ongoing parental involvement in their lives, they will benefit in so many ways not the least of which is learning to trust the adults in their lives. This will have long-term benefits for them in their own development as well as future relationships they enter into.

Never underestimate your capacity for being a hero to these children who need you. Find ways to stay involved with them and give them the ongoing gifts of caring, reassurance and hope.

Action Step:

If you are a stepparent and are contemplating a separation or divorce from your partner, explore all possible avenues of information and support available to help you work through the issues in your relationship and in your stepfamily. Remember that in the vast majority of cases, the problems that lead stepfamilies and blended families to divorce or separation, are a direct result of the dynamics at play, and are not the fault of the individuals involved. You owe it to yourself, your partner and the children involved to do everything in your power to make things work before you make a decision to leave. 85% of step families and blended families who reach out for help with these issues, do resolve them and go on to build or re-build their family together. If a separation is inevitable, make it a priority to plan with your partner, how you can stay involved with your stepchildren in a significant way afterward. And finally, if you are a stepparent who has been out of your stepchildren's lives for awhile now, because of separation or divorce, seriously consider re-connecting with them and maintaining contact with them - it can make all the difference in the world to them. It will reassure them that they are worthy and valuable human beings and will role model to them how to be compassionate, committed and caring young people. What a gift you can give them by just giving them your time!

Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, Founder of The Step and Blended Family Institute





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