Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Maturity And Stepfamily Success

Although I have covered the topic of maturity in a number of different contexts, one of the most important articles I wrote on that subject is to do with building a happy and sustainable stepfamily. As I truly believe in the importance of that message, I've decided to share it with you here in the hope that it will be meaningful and helpful to you.

Thinking about my dad, who recently lost his battle with cancer, caused me to recall some of the memories I have of him. My earliest memories are of play boxing with a father I adored -  who was bigger than life, could do no wrong, was my hero and as permanent a fixture in my young life as the trusty old stove that kept me warm in winter. When I became a little older, however, I realized that all was not as well in my home as I had believed. I suddenly noticed dad’s impatience that had all three of us children jumping to please, his quick temper that frequently flared (not usually with me) but often with my older brother. I became aware of the fact that dad’s presence at our dinner table became rarer and rarer and that the weekends we had spent doing fun things as a family in the past were now empty with dad nowhere to be seen. I guess it didn’t come as a big surprise when my mother told me that she and dad were about to divorce. Of course there were many reasons for which my parents made this decision, none of which I understood as the ten year old I was at the time. What I did understand, however, was that my wonderful family of 6 was suddenly reduced to a lonely home consisting of 2 (grandma and me). All other family members quickly dispersed into various directions, no doubt fleeing their confusion and pain. Many years passed, years during which my dad remarried and my mother re-discovered her identity as a single woman. For me these years brought much heartache, confusion, loss of predictability and security and many wrong choices made in a attempt to regain the love I felt I had lost. When I was 25 (or thereabouts) my parents decided to get back together and, although their subsequent journey wasn’t a bed of roses either, they managed to create a pretty happy life together. Dad  devoted the rest of his years here on earth to ‘making up’ for lost time, he became an excellent husband and a model parent.

Why am I telling you this story? Because what I came to realize over the years was that what made the difference between mum and dad’s early years (their battles, unhappiness and divorce) and their later re-marriage and subsequent happiness (which brought happiness not just to the two of them but to the entire family) was their level of MATURITY. In their younger years they were fairly immature, focused mostly on their personal happiness – THEIR needs and desires, THEIR painful feelings and pride. After all the years of separation with its accompanying hardships, heartache and the devastation of our family, however, they felt  ready to do things differently. Not that it came so much easier the second time round, but they had learnt that successful relationships require a certain amount of sacrifice which they were now willing to make. Maturity, of course, isn’t born into us, it isn’t usually acquired in our younger years, isn’t something we are given as a birthday gift, nor can it be bought – BUT is essential to happy satisfying relationships. For second-time-round relationships (as in step-relationships) it is of particular importance and will be the ultimate determinant of whether we will ‘make it’ (or not). It’s with that in mind that I’ve chosen the issue of maturity for today’s topic. 

MATURITY is expressed through PATIENCE

Patience is the willingness to pass up immediate pleasure in favour of long-term gain. It is said that patience is a virtue. Well, it certainly doesn’t come easily to the majority of people. I know because I am an active member of that majority and it’s taken a long time for me to acquire it.

Patience for YOU, the step-parent, means:

* Recognition of the need to move slowly and gently into the lives of your stepchildren.
* The realization that stepchildren may need to go through a grieving period before they can accept the new family situation.
* Not to rush or manipulate your stepchildren into demonstrations of affection.
* Understanding that your step-kids won’t respond kindly to attempts at discipline until you have earned the right which cannot happen until you’ve gained their trust.
* Understanding how difficult it is for your partner to be ‘piggy in the middle’ and not to push him or her into taking sides.
* Recognition and graceful acceptance that it usually takes a long time for stepfamilies before they can live together in relative harmony.  

Stay tuned as over the next few weeks I'll explore many other virtues that come with maturity and that are critical to building a happy, sustainable and rewarding stepfamily. 

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