Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stepfamilies Are Different - Part 3

If you are tuning into this Blog for the first time, please be sure to read the first couple of segments of this series, before continuing.

c. Stepfamilies come about as a consequence of loss.

Stepfamilies result from repartnering after a first partner’s death or if you have gone through a separation or divorce. Either situation brings in its wake an enormous sense of loss and grief. People who have gone through one or the other of these experiences need to not only come to terms with having lost their most important relationship but also their expectations, hopes, plans and dreams. The child who has experienced such a circumstance will have to come to terms with the loss of a parent and having the world they knew turned upside down. They may also lose their home if their situation requires a move and consequently their local school and friends.

The experience of loss is NEVER easy. It makes for heavy emotional baggage and grieving can take a long time. Unless you are aware of this reality, you may be confused, unprepared and totally bewildered by your stepfamily member’s emotions and behaviours.

Hint: Be aware that your stepchild may be in the throws of grieving for all that they havd lost. Grieving children often exhibit difficult behaviour. Remember that this is not about you and don’t take their behaviour personally. Give them permission to grieve. Encourage them to talk about it. Be willing to listen. Don’t try to fix their pain. Lend them your shoulder to cry on.

d. Your stepchild has a number of relatives who are not related to you.

When you embark on your stepfamily journey you not only acquire stepchildren, you also inherit in-laws by “default”. This may not be much of an issue if your stepchildren are only weekend visitors. If they live with you permanently or for extended periods of time, however, you may well be faced with your partner’s former in-laws who (reasonably enough) will want to continue their relationship with their grandchild, nephew, niece, cousin (your stepchild). This can be an amicable affair, especially if these in-laws are a positive influence in your stepchild’s life. This can, however, present you with all sorts of problems you may not have considered BS (before stepfamily). This is most often the case if your partner’s ex is bitter, angry and hateful and her/his relatives feel uncomfortably caught in a loyalty bind. All step-rellies (even your partner’s parents who may be caught in a similar dilemma) can be your allies or your foes.

Hint: Adopt an open-door policy with your step-relatives. Show them that you welcome them in your life. Befriend them if you can. Be aware that they may be struggling with loyalty conflicts and that they may be quite wary of you. Don’t expect them to “take sides”. Encourage your stepchild’s relationship with them. Let them “help you out” by babysitting, taking the kids for the weekend etc... and be sure that you express your appreciation.

Stay tuned for the last part of this series, coming next week.

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