When Single Parents Merge

March 30, 2010 at 11:27 AM Leave a comment

Finding the right person is tough. Finding the right person for yourself and your child(ren), well, that’s even tougher. You may feel a connection with someone and then BAM, your kids feel no connection at all. Or it could be that your kids like your boyfriend or girlfriend but in time, they feel jealousy or feel left out because they no longer get the attention they once had from you.

Do tread carefully! If you do not listen intently, not just what your kids tell you, but how your kids behave or change, you may be in for some parenting challenges beyond your imagination. Some parents may feel they are doing the best they can but in reality they are not. When a kid turns to bad behavior, how we respond makes all the difference in the world. Some kids will not communicate verbally. They may shut down completely or act out in ways we do not appreciate but they are kids. If your child is a teenager, do not see them as adults, they still have a lot of growing up to do. Spend alone time with them like you used to. Assure them that they are still loved by you. Don’t give up on them because they are craving your love even though they may seem to want nothing to do with you.

Here’s an article from the Fall 2009 issue of SP on the trials of instant parenthood, written by Christine Hurst, a Licensed Therapist and ACPI Certified Coach for Parents & Stepparents:

One of the most difficult barriers for stepparents to overcome is that there may be expectations that things are to be “instant’ when there is nothing instant about them. For example, any relationship between people takes time to establish and similarly every relationship has its ups and downs. There is nothing instant or constant about the relationship of a stepparent and a child. The stepparent and biological parent should be prepared for a long journey as this relationship grows and evolves.

It is important for stepparents and biological parents in the first year or two to recognize that the stepparent needs to gradually grow into their role as a parent-like figure in their stepchild’s life. It can be detrimental to the relationship for the stepparent to come into a family situation assuming parental responsibilities with no or little history or trust to fall back on. This is also dependant on the age of the child. The younger the child the more likely they will be able to adjust to the stepparent as a parental-like figure. A stepparent should approach their role as an adult mentor to the child and a teammate to their partner expecting that time will tell how the relationships will evolve.

Also, the more you know about a child, the less chance you will be upset by particular behaviors. The biological parent remembers loving times and can look at a young adolescent’s rebellion as “just a stage.” The stepparent does not have the history to compare this behavior against a background of easier times.

Stepparents may be entering the relationship with no children of their own or with children of their own. Adjusting to having time, space, and order compromised or sacrificed can be a very difficult task. Stepparents without children are not used to having to sacrifice their time or space as a stepparent who has children of their own. However, a stepparent who has children of their own now has to balance their time with their stepchildren too. In addition, there are stepparents who cannot have children of their own for whatever reason. The grief of not being able to have your own children can be stirred up while being a stepparent, especially for women.

Developing a stepfamily takes a lot of time and energy that is unpredictable until the couple is in the midst of it. At times, it can feel almost impossible to establish a cohesive stepfamily in-between the back-and-forth visits of the children along with daily stresses of life.
Patricia Papernow, a family-life specialist, has identified stages of stepfamily development. These stages can be helpful for stepfamilies to understand that the struggles they are undergoing is part of the process and although at times it may be very difficult there can be a positive outcome.

Fantasy Stage
In the beginning, the newly wed couple may have expectations that the family will quickly unite and the children will adapt quickly. Biological parent may feel relieved that they now have a partner to help with the parenting responsibilities and the step-parent may hope they can rescue the children from any hurt that they underwent with the divorce. For the children, they often wish that the stepparent and stepsiblings would disappear. They may even still have fantasies that their biological mother and father will reunite.

Immersion Stage
When expectations are not met this can lead to frustration, loneliness, guilt, anger, grief, and more. The biological parent may become angry that they still have to do all of the parenting. The stepparent may feel jealous that they are not getting enough alone time with their spouse. The children may start to resent the stepparent for trying to replace their biological parent’s place.

Awareness Stage
The family members’ feelings of hurt, loss and each member’s differing needs must come to light. It can be very difficult to talk about negative feelings and that is why children and teens may begin to act out. For example, the children may begin acting out at school or the teen may avoid being home. The parent and step-parent may begin to argue more and the marriage may become strained. If stepfamilies cannot speak to what is bothering them they may become stuck.

Mobilization Stage
However, if they can begin to speak to what is bothering them they will move into the mobilization stage. This is the beginning to understanding each member’s needs.
Then the family can begin to problem solve. It is important to understand each other’s needs and to create solutions that work for everyone.

Action Stage
Now that the struggles are out in the open the couple can being to find solutions and create new rituals. The couple will begin to create schedules and implement bonding time that will help to address the children’s needs.

Resolution Stage
This is the stage where relationships potentially can become close. Rules and routines that once created misunderstandings are now normal aspects of this families everyday life. The old fantasies are let go and now members of this family are functioning with more realistic expectations.
However, it is important to remember that not all children will get close to their step-parents. In these situations what is important is that there is mutual respect and cooperation.
For some families this process can take less than 4 years and for others it can take 7 or more. This is evidence that it takes time and if your family is struggling to not be discouraged.

Here are some tips that may help when the going is rough:
• Do what you can to understand stepfamily functioning. Join support groups, read books, reach out to a counselor or parent coach who understands stepfamily dynamics. This will help you to let go of their fantasies and work toward realistic goals.
• Never talk negatively about absent parent in front of children. If a child feels his or her relationship with the absent parent is threatened, he or she may act out.
• Listen to children’s feelings and do not dismiss or minimize how they are feeling.
• To resolve conflicts, parents need to be united on a strategy and include the children on problem solving when it is appropriate.

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Entry filed under: blended families, blended family, child rearing, children, parent, Parenting, single dad, single father, single mom, single mother, single parent, single parent magazine, single parenting, Single Parents, solo dad, solo parent, solo parents, sp magazine, step dad, step mom, step mother, step parent.

Using Children as Pawns

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