Sometimes your special lady needs to be ‘held up’. She needs your supporting hand when she stumbles or if she looks like she might be about to ‘fall’ (metaphorically speaking). If that’s happened already, she needs you even more to help her stand upright again so that she won't fall into the traps of guilt….fear…. or helplessness… or feel like a failure…or fall into a state of depression. She needs you to make room for her by your side and hold her there safely and securely. Stepparents (and especially stepmums) who lack acknowledgment and affirmation can easily feel as though they are failing. They may feel as though they are failing you… your children…themselves. A partner who feels like a failure will rapidly lose their confidence and their belief in themselves. Naturally such a partner is not a happy and contented one and if they are not happy - guess what? - you won't be happy either.
A client’s example:
(Client’s examples are shared with their permission – no real names are used and their real identity is disguised to preserve confidentiality).
Sally was clearly devastated when she came to see me. Big tears dripping down her cheeks she told me: “I fell in love with Cindy and Chris (those are her stepchildren – aged 9 and 12) the moment I saw them. They took to me immediately and we were getting on like a house on fire. Well, that was until Gavin and I got married 6 months ago. We were totally sure that everything was going to be fine – we were so in love, the kids were happy and his ‘ex’ seemed okay with it all as well. Since we’ve been married, though, everything has changed. His ‘ex’ has turned against us and the kids’ behaviour changed overnight. They started ignoring me, talking no notice of anything I said to them. All of a sudden they began treating me like an unwelcome intruder and it wasn’t long before I began feeling like I didn’t belong at all”. Sally, sad and with an air of hopelessness, went on to tell me about the many things that began to go pear-shaped in her relationship as a result. From everything Sally told me that day it became clear to me that as she didn’t know how to handle the sudden and inexplicable changes (and…who would?) she started becoming increasingly insecure….at first in her role of stepmum, then in her role of wife and lastly in the person she perceived herself to be as an individual. Once feeling like an ‘outsider’ Sally began to strike out verbally at the kids. After his initial surprise at the unexpected turnaround, this really upset Gavin who clearly had no idea what was going on. He (as it emerged in the later conversations I had with him) started to get really anxious when he became
aware of the increasing tension between Sally and his children. In his anxiety he began berating Sally, responding to her complaints about the children’s behaviour: “No wonder they ignore you, all you do is shout at them or nag them!.” Gavin was afraid that he would lose his children’s love and affection if they became too uncomfortable in their new environment. He was also afraid of upsetting Sally and felt more and more internal pressure as he became aware that he could neither please Sally nor his children. He didn’t know what to do and became increasingly disgruntled and depressed. A mere six months after ‘tying the knot’ it was clear that nobody was happy! At this point Sally and Gavin came to see me. After a few sessions during which Sally was able to share her innermost feelings, her sense of insecurity and fears it became crystal clear to Gavin what he needed do to improve the situation for everyone concerned. As soon as he realised that he was the LYNCHPIN in this family and, as such, needed to take charge of creating empowering changes, he was ‘off and running’. He appropriated the suggestions below. It didn’t take long, once he began to support Sally in this way, that she reverted to the cheerful, loving and happy-go-lucky girl she had been at the time he’d fallen madly in love with her. Having a heart-to-heart with his kids, in which he gave them permission to talk about THEIR insecurities and fears enabled them to vent their anxieties and helped them stabilise. Soon thereafter they began to settle into a comfortable routine, which eventually allowed them to re-embrace their stepmum without feeling a sense of disloyalty to their biological mother, which had been one of the children’s issues.
* Letting her know frequently just how important she is to you. This affirmation really helps and can be your marriage saver, especially when the going gets tough.
* Acknowledging the difficulty of her position and role. She needs to feel that you understand!
* Assuring her that growing into the role of stepmum takes time. She will be a lot less anxious if she knows that your expectations are realistic. Growing into that role REALLY DOES TAKE TIME!
* Comforting her if your children’s response to her isn’t all she had hoped it would be. She needs to feel loved by you, especially at those times when she feels rejected by your kids.
* Listening to her when she shares her feelings about the situation, your children and any her other concerns. She isn't criticising YOU when she does that, even if that's how it feels to you. She is just trying to work it all out for herself and you can really help by simply listening.
* Not feeling threatened by her worries, fears and insecurities. They aren't YOUR fault and they cannot be fixed. They are normal feelings that normal people have in challenging circumstances and your consistent support, your unwavering love and the passage of time will take care of them.
* Comforting and encouraging her when she feel distressed about the situation. SHE'LL LOVE YOU FOR IT!