Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Slap - Is It A Stepfamily Matter?

If you live in Australia you can’t possibly help having heard about the altercation that recently took place between Blanche d’Alpuchet (Bob Hawke’s wife) and Sue Pieters-Hawke (Bob Hawke’s daughter). The incident was reported on the news, has been discussed in various current affairs programs and no doubt has also been rehashed ‘ad nauseum’ on local talk shows. Well, I guess, doling out a slap or two is newsworthy indeed, especially if the ‘doler outer’ happens to be our former Prime Minister’s second (and current) wife, and the recipient of the slaps happens to be same former Prime Minister’s daughter.

Although slapping one’s stepdaughter is to be strenuously discouraged it is surely not the first such incident to occur. Many a stepmother will have given in to her slapping urge at one time or another, or at the very least, will have dreamt about taking such action - perhaps in response to yet another childish outburst of: ”You can’t tell ME what to do, you are NOT my mother!”

Although such outbursts are fairly common in stepfamilies all over the world, it is doubtful that it was those actual words that raised Blanche d’Alpuchet’s ire to the point of slapping her stepdaughter - after all we are talking about two mature women!! But what else could have been the motive?

Now, I don’t profess to know anything about the Hawke family. I neither know their current nor their historical grievances – what I do know, however, is that some of the feelings experienced by members of the family type commonly known as STEPFAMILY run very, very deep.

In stepfamilies anger, resentment, jealousy, feelings of rejection and frustration with ‘steps’ - whether these are stepchildren, step-parents, step-siblings or step-in-laws - are extremely common.

It is equally common in such families:

·     For stepparents to have anything but warm and fuzzy feelings towards their partner’s ex.

·     For stepchildren, who generally love both their biological parents, to take sides when they believe that one or the other is being ‘attacked’, ‘badmouthed’ or hard done by in some other way.

·     For stepchildren to have a strong urge to protect a biological parent from their stepparent, especially when the bio-parent appears to be (or actually is as in the case of the first Mrs Hawkes) incapable of defending themselves.

·     For those stepchildren who feel the need to protect and/or defend their ‘defenseless’ parent/s to have anything but feelings of kindness, warmth or respect for their stepparent.

Stepfamily professionals understand these common urges and strongly caution stepparents against expressing, within their stepchildren’s hearing, any of the negative thoughts or feelings they may have towards their partner’s ex. Assisting stepparents with the many challenges that they often face we also understand, however, that the temptation to ‘let fly’ can be almost impossible to resist. Take the stepmother, for example, whose partner divorced his first wife because she had a string of affairs. The partner’s child, though, in innocent ignorance blames her stepmother for her parents divorce and expresses her anger and helpless pain through intolerable behaviour. 

Or consider the stepfather who takes his step/fathering role very seriously, is deeply engaged (financially, emotionally and in every other respect) but gets shoved out of the way - if not completely ignored - whenever the children’s ‘real’ dad breezes into their lives. Dads that breeze in and out of their children’s lives and spoil them rotten for the brief periods of time they spend with their children are commonly known as ‘Disney Land Dads’ and feature prominently in many a stepfamily scenario.

The truth is that stepfamilies come in all shapes and sizes and struggle with challenges, stresses and a complexity of feelings that for those who are not members of such a family type can be difficult to understand. Whilst the obvious reason for the ’Alpuchet/Pieters–Hawke confrontation may well lie hidden in Pieters-Hawes yet to be published book as was suggested by some journalists, I would venture to say that the REAL reason -  the very foundation of the depth of resentment that exists between these two women - is very likely rooted in the fact that they are bound by invisible ties - ties that were not chosen by either of them but were created the very moment the father of one become the husband of the other. Is it a stepfamily matter? You decide!

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