Today God has laid on me to write an article on being a stepparent and the damage it can cause to stepchildren if the role is not taken on with love and patience. I personally was not a product of divorce. My parents have been married for 55 years this year. Divorce was not in our vocabulary and growing up I personally did not know many people that were divorced or kids from divorce. It was not a huge subject back in the 70’s and 80’s. If we did hear about one or knew a child from a broken family it was almost taboo to hang out with them.
Well low and behold divorce was introduced to my vocabulary and to me personally in 1996 when after getting married at 17 and having two beautiful sons, my then husband and I decided it was best as we were getting to the point of hating one another. For reasons I care not to discuss because honestly why does it matter now. I remember right away that guards starting going up with my ex and I and because of a lot of anger the kids started to be put in the middle. Thank goodness my kids were only 2 and 5 at the time.
I remember for me it was a relief when my ex left, but in my own selfishness I failed to overlook at the time what that meant for my kids and their future relationship with both of us as parents. I remember thinking I just want to find love again and then everything will be okay. I even went so far to get down on my knees and pray for a man specifically to come into my life. God fearing, handsome, sweet, passionate. All the things I did not have in the spouse I picked because I was too immature to understand love at 17 years old and even after trying for 9 more years to find it, it just was not there.
God answered my prayer a few months later when he sent me my husband now who I have been remarried to and with for 19 years. Boy I thought this is going to be awesome. He had two kids and I had two kids same ages and I was thinking we are going to be this sweet little family and love is just going to come naturally for each other’s children……. WRONG! There was not a manual to warn us that it’s not natural to take on one’s children and love them as your own biological kids but not because we did not want too, it was hard because we did not get along with either of our exes. Because they did not want us to move on they made our life difficult so much so that at times in the first part of our marriage we felt to give up. We knew a few families that were in similar situation and if not for them and the church counseling at the time we would have failed in that as well.
In all honesty I grew to love his kids and he grew to love mine, but every time something came up with the other parents it was like we automatically blamed the kids or at least they felt we did. For me personally and I hate to admit it but they were reminders to me of “the other woman my husband married.” Let’s face it jealousy is huge in being remarried. If you are lucky enough to get along that is perfect, but the majority of divorces do not end that way. The kids end up being the pawns in the middle. And then in our own pursuit of our own love relationship their issues get lost in the shuffle. Then before you know it they are grown and you wonder why they have anxiety out the roof, they struggle with dating, they don’t want to be married because to them marriage is just miserable, and they have a low self esteem. For my kids it was a double whammy because my ex remarried close to the same time I did so now did they not only inherit a stepdad but a new stepmom. I am sure for her even harder to deal with my kids because she had none of her own. Everyone learning how to interact in these new family units and at the same time not wanting to rip apart the other parent who for some reason was already attacking any time they could. Or at least it always felt that way. Which caused me to have extreme anger at life and being so negative. Not a good thing to be when you are supposed to be that loving mom your kids deserve. I think it’s totally natural to get caught up in the pity party and falling victim to the circumstances without even realizing the effect we are having on our children. Then there is the common having a new child together and trust me it affects that one that loves their half brothers and sisters too when we are not loving equally and saying, yours, mine, and ours. That statement alone is dividing them.
Years later I have been able to apologize to my kids and step kids for my behavior at times. Whether it be I did not listen to their needs, was more caught up in my own relationship, or just did not want to deal with it because let’s face it, divorce is overwhelming even when you want the divorce. God did not create divorce. People did. SO not only are you having all of these emotions of finding new love and trying to be happy, but you are also getting over failure in so many ways which I feel you don’t even realize until your kids are up and grown and gone.
Too many kids are struggling in this day and age already with bullying and not fitting in and if they come from divorce chances are they are struggling even more so with fitting into these newly created family units. We all need to remember that these children did not ask for a new mommy or daddy. They are just victims of circumstance. These kids need to be number one when it comes to their daily lives and their interests. One day these kids will be grown and on their own and at that point you want to know they can deal with life and that they won’t fall into the traps of not wanting to get married themselves one day because of the bad experience they have had through us.
My epiphany came about four years ago after the last of our blended family kids turned 18 years old. I had just got a degree in Psychology and I started being a life coach online on a few sites. The stories coming in were of adults that had grown up in blended families and the horror stories I heard made me look at myself and how I was in helping to raise my kids as well as my husband’s. Because of this and going through it personally I feel like maybe I can help those going through it now that are struggling with their place in the stepfamily world. We all know there is not a manual on how to do it right, so unfortunately we learn from our mistakes a little late. The damage is done. Below are some tips to help your step family feel like a “real family”. Kids need that safety net and so these are things I learned after the fact that I hope you can use in the moment of your most hardest times trying to keep a blended family blended.
1. NEVER EVER TALK BAD ABOUT THE OTHER PARENT NO MATTER HOW HURTFUL THEY ARE TO YOU. BOTH PARENTS ARE GOING THROUGH EMOTIONAL THINGS AND WE DON’T WALK IN EACH OTHERS SHOES TO BE ABLE TO CONDEMN THEM OR HAVE THEM CONDEMN US. IFYOU NEED TO VENT THAT IS WHAT YOU HAVE SPOUSES FOR BEHIND CLOSED DOORS AWAY FROM THE CHILDREN.
2. LOOK AT YOUR STEPCHILDREN AS BONUSES TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP. THEY WANT TO FIT IN AND BE LOVED AS MUCH AS YOU DO. FOR THEM IT’S HARD TO SOMETIMES FIT IN BECAUSE OF THE NEW DYNAMICS AND PERSONALITIES, BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU ALL CANNOT GET ALONG.
3. REMEMBER THEY ARE PART OF THE NEW SPOUSE YOU ARE MADLY IN LOVE WITH. THEIR BLOOD RUNS THROUGH THEIR VEINS AND EVEN THOUGH THEY REMIND YOU OF THE EX OF YOUR SPOUSE, THEY ALSO HAVE MANY QUALITIES OF YOUR SPOUSE.
4. DO NOT TRY TO BE THEIR PARENT!!!! YOU ARE NOT. THEY HAVE A FATHER AND MOTHER. THE BEST THING YOU CAN BE IS A ROLE MODEL AND FRIEND. AN EXTRA ADDED SUPPORT WHEN THEIR REAL PARENTS CANNOT UNDERSTAND THEM.
5. BE A SAFE PLACE FOR THEM TO COME. DON’T TAKE OUT YOUR ANGER AT YOUR EX OR THEIR EX AND MAKE THE KIDS FEEL LIKE THEY HAVE DONE SOMETHING WRONG BY BEING BORN.
6. RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS YOUR CHILDREN ARE GOING THROUGH SOMETHING. KEEP UP ON GRADES AT SCHOOL, SOCIAL ACTIVITIES, AND TALK TO THEM ALL THE TIME TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE DOING ALRIGHT.
7. BUILD THEM UP. THESE CHILDREN WERE NOT ACCIDENTS. THEY HAVE POTENTIAL TO BE AMAZING ADULTS. A BAD WORD CAN BREAK THEM DOWN, A SHUN CAN MAKE THEM DEPRESSED.
8. DO NOT BRING YOUR EX AND YOUR PROBLEMS TO THE KIDS. DEAL WITH YOUR ISSUES OUTSIDE OF THE KIDS BEING AROUND. THEY DO NOT NEED TO SEE THE TWO MOST PEOPLE THEY LOVE ARGUE BECAUSE NO MATTER WHAT THEY LOVE YOU EQUALLY. YOU ARE THEIR PARENTS. THEY CAN NOT DIVIDE THAT NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU DESPISE EACH OTHER.
9. INCLUDE THEM IN AS MANY FAMILY THINGS AS POSSIBLE EVEN WITH YOUR IMMEDIATE FAMILY. EVEN IF THEY ARE NOT BLOOD RELATED THEY ARE NOW YOUR CHILDREN TOO.
10. AND SO THAT ALL OF THEM CAN FEEL EQUALLY LOVED IN THE CASE OF MULTIPLE KIDS FROM BOTH SIDES……KEEP A CHART OF CONSEQUENCES FOR ACTIONS. DISCIPLINE SHOULD BE DONE IN LOVE AND NOT IN ANGER. IF THEY ARE ALL GETTING THE SAME ATTENTION THEN IT CUTS DOWN JEALOUSY BETWEEN THE CHILDREN.
BUT MOST IMPORTANT…………LOVE LOVE LOVE BECAUSE YOUR EXAMPLE TODAY IS WHAT THESE KIDS WILL GROW UP TO FOLLOW. I KNOW FOR A FACT I DO NOT WANT ANY OF MY KIDS TO GO THROUGH WHAT I DID.
Step kids are often the kids that feel most rejected, the most unloved and the most unwanted. I believe that we can change this culture to be more sensitive to the needs of these kids that are being thrown in the crossfire of divorced parents and stepparents. Jealousies need to stop at the door when your kids come over. The fact is this…you chose to marry a man or woman that had a previous wife and kids and so you should not expect life will be a whirlwind romance in the days of raising them all the time.
On a lighter note…you will get your time together when the kids are grown and you have the ability to change the way your children and his or hers looks at you. You have the ability to rise above and be that person that gives security to the now young adult and amazing guidance for an awesome future! When they can grow up feeling secure then the relationship you have as adults later on will be the most fulfilling one you can imagine. It’s not just a bonus for a stepchild to have another parent……it’s a bonus for a stepparent to be loved by another child
If you are reading this and have been through it and never was able to apologize for your actions in raising someone else’s child or helping in doing so….it’s never too late to say you are sorry and repair the relationship. I was lucky enough to be able to do that with my stepchildren when they were older. I was young and naïve and no excuse. I just know I could have been better, I could have been wiser, and I could have loved harder. The really cool thing is though my four blended kids consider one another brothers and sister to this day. So in that something went right