Building Sustainable Relationships For Stepfamilies
I hope you’ll forgive me! I’m afraid I’m going to take the easy way out today and simply upload part of a chapter from my Stepfamilies book, on the topic of building effective relationships with somebody else’s children. It’s been a difficult week; as I tweeted only today: my mother has fallen and broken her pelvis. To make it worse, she’s on holiday in Spain. Worse still, she is my dad’s Carer: he has dementia. (This is beginning to sound like the plot for a novel!) Lots of obstacles to be overcome. Not only do we have to get her home (stretcher job, involving a UK nurse being flown out and nine empty seats on an aircraft for the return flight) but I have to arrange for 24 hour care to be set up for the two of them.
So you see why I haven’t put up a blog for the last day or so.
Stepfamilies is the book that brought me my last radio
broadcast. When it came out I toured the country doing TV and radio
slots. But that was thirteen years ago. So it came as quite a
surprise when I received an e-mail last month from the producer of
the Richard Bacon show on BBC
Radio 5 Live. He googled stepfamilies, and came up with my
book. Just goes to show – never presume that what you
accomplished years, even decades, ago is dead meat! Even an old
book is useful in building a positive
The phone-in on the radio programme showed that there was a lot of interest in this subject. And although I read, yesterday, that by next year married couples will be in a minority in the UK, many of the stepfamily problems encountered by married couples, will be exactly the same as those faced by unmarried couples. When it comes to dealing with someone else’s children, you need all the help you can get.
In this excerpt from Stepfamilies, Dawn and John were newly married. John didn’t like the fact that Dawn did everything for his daughter then moaned to him. He wanted her to put her foot down, but Dawn felt uncomfortable about doing so.
YOUR OWN INSECURITIES MAY BE THE PROBLEM
"Dawn’s feelings towards John’s daughter stemmed, partly, from a sense of her own insecurity. Because she was suffering from a sense of ‘loss’ - in that she no longer felt mistress of her own home since she’d moved into the house John had shared with his children since the departure of their mother - she dared not risk further loss. Disciplining John’s daughter represented such a risk: the loss of her stepdaughter’s esteem and, more importantly, perhaps the loss of John’s support also.
Consequently, though commendable, her motives - in wanting to ‘make up’ to her stepdaughter for the years she’d been deprived of a mother - were simply pandering to every adolescent’s dream. Namely, to be able to sit back and be waited on hand and foot!
The insecurity that Dawn experienced is common to many parents and step-parents and unless recognised, it can have the same adverse effect. So, too, is the feeling that there are two codes of practice in operation when it comes to the discipline meted out to children and stepchildren. More usually, however, that is the reverse of Dawn and John’s situation.
THE ART OF DISCIPLINE
In the way of all siblings, there will inevitably be complaints of unfairness - and in the stepfamily, these may well be more justified than most. Inevitably, there will be times when the natural parent feels that the step-parent is prejudiced against their child, and when passions run high.
- The fact is that each member of the family has to learn to accept that we can never satisfy ‘all of the people, all of the time’.
- But whilst it is unrealistic to suppose that a step-parent can feel the same level of affection, or impartiality, for a stepchild as for their own flesh and blood, we can take steps to minimise the damage.
- Only by talking out our sense of frustration, of insecurity, of injustice - as calmly and as non-judgementally as possible, as a family - can we ever hope to come anywhere near resolving the dilemma. (See what I've said previously on the art of Feedback.)
- This means accepting the limitations of our situation and humbly asking for help with my feelings, rather than pointing the finger at anyone else.
Fortunately, John’s daughter had already experienced the special brand of love that her stepmother brought to the family. Dawn’s daughter, Amy, had sent her a birthday card. And because she’d been unable to find one in the ‘Sister’ category, she had written it on, herself. It was that generosity of spirit from Dawn and her family that eventually won the day.
FINDING NEW WAYS TO BOOST SELF ESTEEM
For those of us facing similar situations, where good intentions may be obscuring clouded motives, the best solution to wanting to ‘spoil’ a deprived stepchild is to find more positive and less corruptible ways of doing so:
- baking a favourite cake or pudding occasionally
- doing something together - just the two of you: shopping, swimming; cinema
- buying his/her favourite magazine - and sharing an interest in the contents of it
- discussing the options and decorating his/her bedroom - together
- helping her to make herself a fancy top,or taking him fishing
- doing an evening class - together
- asking her to help you colour your hair
The difference between these things and the sort of ‘spoiling’ that Dawn had shown her stepdaughter is that most of them involve ‘togetherness’ and interaction. They are to do with building a relationship between step-parent and child. Consequently, they are unlikely to foster selfishness or thoughtlessness in a stepchild; or to leave a step-parent feeling ‘put upon’."
If you relate to the situation described above, or have other stepfamily problems, do let me know by leaving a comment below. My other half and I formed a stepfamily when we married. But even if we can’t offer the help you need, someone else may be able to. Until then . . .
BBC Radio Devon Interview
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