Let's take 11 year old Toni (not his real name). When his dad left home Toni's mum was devastated. Toni, witnessing his mother's distress, naturally became very protective of her. Since Toni's dad has remarried, Toni spends every second weekend with him and his new wife. Whilst his mother's house is still filled with pain, distress and bitterness his dad's new home is filled with love and laughter. Toni likes being there - truth be told he actually prefers being at his dad's house. Dad is generous and fun and his stepmother showers him with affection. There he does not feel the weight of responsibility that seems to rest on his young shoulders at his mother's house. However, every time he arrives at his dad's doorstep he feels sick in the pit his stomach. He feels as though is betraying his mum whom he pictures sitting lost and lonely in her empty home. So, although he wants to desperately be rid of this image; although he wants to embrace his dad and let his stepmother know how much he actually likes her, he cannot. His head is filled with confusing thoughts whilst his emotions are in total turmoil - all he can feel is utter misery and the weekend that he had been looking forward to for an entire fortnight, turns into a major disaster.
It turns into a disaster for Toni because he is torn between being loyal to his dad whom he loves dearly; (his dad's new wife who is pretty cool) and being loyal to his 'poor' mother whom he loves just as much and for whom he feels such sadness and pain. Because Toni has no way of understanding what is going on for him he also has no way of explaining it to anyone.
It's a disaster for Toni's dad who cannot understand why the son whom he loves with all his heart is so miserable, cranky and sullen all weekend and why 'for goodness sakes' he is so frustratingly non-responsive to any of his efforts at drawing him out or cheering him up.
It's a disaster for Toni's stepmother. She simply wants to feel accepted by this boy and desperately tries to connect with him but gets nothing other than what feels like cold rejection in return.
What a sad situation - and yet how many stepfamilies are intimately acquainted with just such a scenario?!
When your stepkids are less than pleasant on their weekend visits or their holiday stays remember that the reason may be that they are struggling with a painful loyalty conflict. Although this knowledge doesn't make the experience any more pleasant it will help you be more aware and perhaps more sensitive to what's going on for them.
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