Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Role Of Maturity In A Stepparent's Life - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my Maturity Series. I imagine that when you read this some of you will be thinking 'yea, it's easy for you to write all this stuff. How would YOU know what's like in MY situation? True, true, I don't know what it's like in your situation but remember very well what it was like in mine. Whilst I was in the first so many years of my stepparenting experience and was tearing my hear our day-in day-out with frustration and was twisting myself into a pretzel of misery in an attempt to find a 'way out' of the trap I felt I was in, I probably would have wanted to scream at anyone even daring to suggest that a bit of maturity would make all the difference in my life. Being on the other side of this journey, however, I can tell you with complete authority that this is the absolute truth. No life is without its challenges; no life is without frustrations; no life is without hurdles that need to be overcome and this is as true an experience in first marriages as it is in second. Just think, why are you in the position you are in? Isn't it because you or your partner have found their first marriage/s too much of a challenge? So, isn't believing that whatever comes next is going to be a picnic in the park somewhat unrealistic? Life is a great teacher of things and whilst I know and understand - having done it no differently myself - that it's those very challenges that give us maturity, appropriating even A LITTLE of what I suggest, at whatever age you happen to be right now, will stand you in very good stead and will possibly determine whether your marriage survives, or not. So, please don't think that I am just giving you a whole heap of theory. EVERYTHING I write comes from the foundation of personal experience.

MATURITY = THE CAPACITY TO FACE UNPLEASANTNESS AND FRUSTRATION

I don’t know any step-parent who hasn’t had his or her share of that. Unpleasantness, I am told, often is the “ex’s” second name – his/her first name usually cannot be mentioned in public! And doesn’t that cause the most incredible frustration? Some of the step-folk I assist complain how they begin every day with the best of intentions, but the moment they have to deal with their own, and even more often, their partner’s “ex” all good-will just flies out of the window and they are left hopping mad, climbing the walls, grinding their teeth, seething like fury…and often with good reason.

The capacity to face unpleasantness and frustration for YOU, the step-parent, means:

* The recognition that living with children who have a biological mother or father living in another household or in memory is bound to cause difficulties.

* The determination not to take your partner’s “ex’s” anger, spite, jealousy etc. personally.

* The resolve not to be put out or pushed into retaliation mode by your stepchildren’s behaviour.

* That you can never replace the step-child’s biological parent no matter how much you may wish to or how hard you may try.

* Understanding that your fantasy (nuclear) image of a family consisting of mum, dad, 2 kids and a dog cannot ever come to pass if he has 3 kids from his first marriage and you have a new baby’s on the way.

MATURITY = THE ABILITY TO CONTROL ANGER AND TO SETTLE DIFFERENCES

No, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be annoyed, have a different opinion from your mate or that you can't get angry. What is required, however, is that you need to deal with your anger in a constructive fashion, that you don’t withdraw, pout for days, play ‘no speaks’, turn into an ‘ice queen’ or that you get violent and/or destructive.

For you, the step-parent, this means:

*Having a conscious awareness of the things that cause your angry feelings.

*Recognizing that whilst your anger is usually triggered by another person, it is in your control and therefore it is your responsibility how you respond.

* Being willing to deal with your anger in a constructive fashion.

* Talking the anger issues through with either: the 'offender', your partner, a trusted and wise friend and/or a therapist.

* Learning (and diligently practicing) conflict resolution skills.

* Developing tolerance.

*Recognizing that you are not always right and developing the ability to say “I am sorry”.

MATURITY = THE ABILITY TO MAKE A DECISION AND TO STAND BY IT

Stepparents have made a most important decision - to become a significant person in the lives of a number of people. It’s essential to remember that this decision will have lasting consequences, not only in your own life, but also in the lives of all the members of your stepfamily.

For you, the step-parent, this means:

* Remembering that it was YOUR decision to say “I do”. This is critical, especially at those times when it feels like it has been a bad decision.

* Hanging in there when the going gets tough.

* Recalling at those tough times why you’ve made that choice in the first place e.g. “I married Jim because I love him and couldn't imagine doing life without him”.

* Recommitting yourself to doing whatever it takes to make your family situation work e.g. taking a stepfamily or couples’ relationship course, learning about child development and/or child raising issues, informing yourself about stepfamily challenges and issues, utilizing a counselling service etc.

Recognizing that nothing that is worthwhile and of lasting value comes without a price-tag.

MATURITY = DEPENDABILITY

Dependability is a very important issue. It determines whether you are trustworthy (or not) and therefore has a huge impact on each and every one of your relationships.

Dependability for you, the step-parent, means:

* Taking the responsibility you’ve accepted by moving into the stepfamily experience seriously.

* Keeping your word whether you feel like it or not.

* Being there for each member of your stepfamily no matter how difficult it may be (and being gracious about it).

* Frequently doing things you don’t particularly like doing.

* Making sacrifices that you hadn’t anticipated.

* Remembering your promise ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health’…..

Please remember to return next week for the Part 3 of this Series.

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