Clinical Psychologist Dr Liz Hale shares some of the most important things to remember when bringing a step-family together.
PARENT FROM CHILD’S PERSPECTIVE
Remember that in blended families there is an undercurrent of loss, separation, disappointment, and guilt. Kids tell me about their need for their parents to be compassionate, understanding, and kind. Children also make repeated requests for their parents to be role models, as opposed to ‘do as I say not as I do.’ Children desire to be treated with love, respect, and understanding – and they will typically treat their parents as they are treated. You will learn a great deal by taking the time to ask and listen to what children have to say about your divorce, remarriages of the other parent, going from one household to another, new step-siblings, etc. Take the time to truly listen and be aware of what is going on in the lives of your children. Do not be afraid to hear their replies. You cannot fix it, but you can provide a space for it. You’ll be amazed at how effective it is to just listen and “get” what the other person is experiencing.
GUILT IS A FOUR-LETTER WORD
Obviously it isn’t, but it is one of the most debilitating, unsupportive emotions that keep parents from showing up! When you are driven by guilt, your judgment is clouded and your ability to make sound decisions is impaired. Parents are often wracked with guilt over their decisions to break up a marriage and a family. Guilt is like rocking in a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but you never get anywhere. Children thrive when their parents give them clear, consistent limits and boundaries. Whether children are in your home for a weekend or entire summer, they need to know that your rules and boundaries are consistent for all children – it helps them feel loved, safe, and nurtured. Care enough to say “No,” and let go of needing to convince others of your different points of view.
NEGOTIATE PARENTING DIFFERENCES
The most important agreement you can make is to respect and honor each other in front of all the children in your blended family. As you might recall, Steve and Sue took parenting classes before they became a family; they turned over every stone BEFORE they became one so there were as few surprises as possible yet there were still plenty to be found. Trying to change how the other person parents is futile. The key is to accept and understand why your partner does what he or she does. It is much more effective than saying, “You are SO wrong!” When you can understand the perspective of the other you will then be more supportive of each other and able to resolve your differences from a place of love. Again, in front of the children, support the other parent, and behind closed doors air your differences and come to a mutual understanding.
NURTURE & REFUEL YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Because you’ll need it! When you take time for your relationship, you’ll find that you will be much more available and present for your children and their needs. When you take time to invest in a loving connection as husband and wife, you will be more supportive and unified when conflicts in the family arise…and trust me, they’ll be there. Bind yourselves together and learn from your vast, rich experiences. Nothing has to be wasted. But remember that marriage is not easy; and second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages. Members of step-families really need to be called Step-Heroes because they are living against the odds every day, choosing connection over domination and what’s best for everyone over their own personal preferences.
To contact Dr. Liz regarding this segment or her private practice, please e-mail her at email@example.com.