Most of us come into the step-experience with a great deal of insecurity. Whether we partner with the father of one or a number of children, whether these children live with us or merely visit on weekends and/or at holiday times, we are the ‘INTRUDERS’ into an established relationship and we are well aware of it.
Isn’t it true that at first you step very lightly around the children your partner seems to cherish with all his heart? You most likely do your very best to reach out to them, connect with them and strive to being liked and accepted by them. After all, they do have a ‘say’ in the matter of whether or not you become what you desperately want to be at this point - their father’s mate. Once the proverbial knot has been tied, however, it is not at all unusual to lose some of this initial fervour. Worn down by the everyday cares and concerns of stepfamily living, by the partner’s ex’s thinly veiled (or openly displayed) hostility, by the numerous inconveniences, annoyances, financial strains and other issues that arise as a result of partnering with an already ‘encumbered’ mate, you might have become quite disenchanted with the whole stepparenting "kit and caboodle". By now the initial insecurity may have turned into frustration, resentment and a sense of helplessness and the question of how you can best cope with this will be uppermost on your mind.
The saying that holds true for all couple’s relationships, ‘it takes two to tango’ is just as true in stepfamilies. Yes, as step-parents we do have to learn many things…but so do our partners. Without their full support step-parenting can be the hardest, most frustrating, most thankless parenting task one could ever find. So, this article, which is divided into a number of parts, is directed at your partner. Perhaps you can read it together, discuss the topics raised, share your thoughts and feelings and work out some strategies that ‘fit’ YOU.
In order to find a definition of the word SUPPORT I consulted the Concise Oxford Dictionary which states the following:
***Carry (part of) weight*hold up*keep from falling or sinking*enable to last out*keep from failing*give strength to*encourage*endure*tolerate*supply with the necessary*provide for*lend assistance or countenance to*back up*further*take secondary part to*speak in favour of*assist by one’s presence…..***
Now let’s focus on some of these words and see how they apply to the step-experience.
**CARRY (PART OF) THE WEIGHT**
As you are a biological parent who has experienced the loss of a partner either to death or separation and divorce you most certainly are no stranger to carrying a heavy burden. When you find another partner, your hope is that you not only find another chance at love, contentment and harmony, but also that this person is someone with whom you can share the burden you’ve been carrying on your own. This is a natural desire which is totally appropriate unless, in your relief, you now lay the whole burden squarely on your partner’s shoulders.
Relationship means SHARING THE BURDEN. You need to share your partner's and he/she needs to share yours.
In order to succeed at burden sharing you can ensure that your partner isn’t overburdened. To do this it will be helpful to:
Ask your partner whether they feel overburdened.
* If they say ‘yes’, find out why they feel this way and put your mind on devising suitable ways to relieve them of the overload.
* Take responsibility for your child/ren and ensure that they behave in a respectful manner towards your partner.
* Be there for your partner PHYSICALLY: don’t spend more time than absolutely essential at work.
* Be there for your partner RELATIONALLY: spend as much quality time together as possible with your partner. This is essential to building a strong, satisfying relationship.
* Be there for your partner EMOTIONALLY: listen and validate his/her needs (even if they are not the same as yours) and seek to meet as many of them as possible.
**HOLD (your partner) UP AND KEEP (them) FROM FAILING**
Sometimes your partner needs to be ‘held up’. He or she needs your supporting hand underneath them when they are about to stumble or are ready to crumble. If that’s already happened, your partner needs you even more to help him/her stand upright again so that they will not sink: into guilt….into fear….into helplessness…into feeling like a failure…into depression. They need you to hold them right by your side where they belong.
Step-parents who lack acknowledgment and affirmation can easily feel as though they are failing. They may feel that they are failing you, your children, even themselves. A partner who feels like a failure will rapidly lose his/her confidence and belief in themselves. Naturally such a partner is not a happy and contented one.
You can assist your partner’s success by:
* Letting them know how important they are to you.
* Acknowledging the difficulty of their position and role.
* Assuring them that growing into the role of step-parent takes time and that you are not impatient.
* Comforting them if your children’s response to them isn’t all they had hoped it would be.
* Listening to them when they share their feelings about the situation, the children and all their other concerns.
**ENABLE (your) TO LAST OUT**
If you’ve been in the step-situation for a while you’ve likely become aware that your partner may feel, at times, as though he or she just won’t last the distance. Whilst this may be frightening to you (after all you don’t want to lose yet another partner) it is a very normal feeling for them to have. Often they are plagued by feelings that you may not readily comprehend but which you should be able to recognise. Some of these could be:
* Feelings of jealousy – if you rave about your “darling” kids at every opportunity.
* Feelings of displacement - especially if your children only visit on weekends and you spend ALL your time with them.
* Feelings of resentment – if your mate feels like the chief cook and bottle washer whilst you are having a ball with your children.
* Feelings of anger - if your kids don’t show him/her the respect they deserve and you don’t correct them.
* Feelings of frustrated helplessness – if you take sides with your children against your partner.
* Feelings of hopelessness – if your mate feels as though you will never have the same strength of love for them as you have for your child/ren.
If you want your mate to last the distance, it is imperative that you become sensitive to his/her feelings and learn how to diffuse them. Some of these feelings can be diffused by communication. So, when your partner talks about his/her resentment towards your children, rather than leaping to defend your ‘poor little darlings’, it is much more helpful if you simply let them talk about their feelings. Once brought to the surface, being heard and not disputed, feelings tend to rapidly lose in intensity and you may well find that the next weekend will be so much happier now that your partner feels understood. If their resentment is as a result of the child/ren‘s rotten behaviour or for some other tangible reason, it helps to lay down the law to your children. Your mate deserves respect both from you and from your children.