The way I see it, when it comes to parenting and family, biology is the least of what makes someone a parent, and family isn’t about whose blood you carry; it’s who you love and who loves you back. No matter how horrible you are sometimes.
Having first-hand experience as a STEPCHILD growing up, and then as a mother incorporating a STEPPARENT into my children’s lives, let us just say there have been a few challenges along the way. So I feel I can share a tip or two.
Of course I understand you may disagree wholeheartedly with my approach, please feel free. Each Word Vitamin is designed to create an opportunity to do a mini Emotional Fitness workout, so we become more efficient at working out what we feel. And that involves all of our feelings. The bold, brave emotions, the beautiful feelings we welcome and the knee-jerk reactions we like to bullshit ourselves we don’t have.
So when the word STEPFAMILY arises for some of us, a quick workout to help build our Emotional Fitness and self-awareness can sometimes be useful.
My husband, Mr Delicious, also grew up with a STEPFATHER as his father passed away when he was a young boy. Fortunately for me his experience with his STEPFATHER was a positive one. He still fondly remembers dear old Mickey. Mr D. learnt a great deal from Mickey on what to do and not to do when entering a family where there are two young roosters and a mother. He trod carefully, understanding that these two young men were no threat to him. Since 2003 our family celebrations include my two sons, now men, their biological father and their STEPDAD Mr Delicious. We all treat each other with absolute respect as heart family. So much so that at my oldest sons forthcoming wedding he has chosen his brother, father and STEPDAD as his groomsmen.
However, my experience with other males prior to Mr Delicious was very different. Past partners saw my children in a very different way and often gave me an ultimatum about “It’s them or me”. One in particular wanted my sons to go and live full-time with their father while they were still in their last years of high school. Their biological father and I had a harmonious agreement that from Monday to Friday the boys would alternate houses and weekends would also remain flexible depending on their social and sporting commitments. The reason for one particular past relationships ending, for me, was primarily because of ultimatums around my sons. I obviously chose my sons. A no-brainer for me, and it would be for many mothers. My babies were still in my nest as far as I was concerned so I was not about to kick them out for a jealous man. As I said earlier, I respect your right to wholeheartedly disagree with me.
I would like to share five basic tips for you to debate or digest, depending on what you find emotionally palatable when it comes to working on harmoniously blending STEPFAMILIES.
1. EASY DOES IT.
Take it slow with the new relationship, remembering that everyone integrates emotively at their own pace. Just because a parent or a child may be ready to talk marriage, moving in or change titles like “dad” or “my child” does not mean everyone is. A child primarily needs to feel safe and reassured that their private intimacy with their parent is not up for grabs. Parents need to respect and honour their child’s young heart and check in with the child first privately before big public announcements of marriage, moving in or away are made.
2. PRESERVE PRIVACY AND INTIMACY. One ritual that has proven powerful for me with my children is ensuring I make time for “date night (or day)” with each child once a month. I started doing this years ago and still to this day look forward to my private time with each son. I would suggest it as an invaluable parenting tool even for non-blended STEPFAMILIES. Most parents are aware that when a child is without a sibling or anyone else and shown by the parent that private time with them is important and special, the child’s intimate heart will open up like a flower.
Sometimes they open up with issues they are unhappy about, other times it’s just social chitchat, and occasionally it is sacred critical stuff they are not willing to tell anyone else but their Mum or Dad. This is gold. Any parent or STEPPARENT that is jealous of their partner having quality alone time with their child in my view needs to review their own Emotional Fitness. It may be that this jealous person is not afforded the same privacy and intimate time that the child is given, and is therefore resentful. If this is the case, adult dates without the kids are just as important and also need to be considered and perhaps reviewed.
3. GET ON THE SAME PAGE.
When it comes to financial expenditure, time on and time off the parenting roster both biological and STEPPARENTS need to discuss their values and all get on the same page. Specifics relating to screen time with mobile phones and computers, consequences for laziness and/or rudeness, kinds of rewards, jobs required to help out around the house, uniformity when it comes to bedtimes, a healthy diet, social outings and homework guidelines are basic parental responsibilities. Once agreed upon a typed-up “Our Family’s 10 Parenting Commandments” can perhaps be circulated to all parties. It is my suggestion this is done with a touch of humour to ensure everyone gets on and stays on the same page.
I did this over a decade ago and placed my printout on the corkboard in each son’s room, and a copy held on with a magnet was ever present on our refrigerator, which my sons visited frequently daily. I also forwarded a copy to their biological dad during my years as a single mum and it worked beautifully. My sons also helped me write it, as there was a few rules I needed to abide by too that they added. Like knocking on their door if it was closed, which I was more than happy to honour as they evolved from boys into young men.
4. INTERCEPT CONFUSION AROUND BETRAYAL.
Children need to be reassured that having an intimate relationship with their new STEPPARENT is not a betrayal to the biological parent. A movie that does a beautiful job of bringing this point home is Step Mom. It is an oldie but a goodie with Ed Harris, Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts.
In this (not so fictional movie) we see the children struggling with feelings of betrayal that if intercepted could have been avoided. The biological parent that may be single (which for a period of time was me) needs to reassure their children as they head over to the other parent’s house to meet a new lover of their mum or dad, that it is OK with the single parent. Even if the new lover is hotter, younger and way cooler. Yes, it is a big Emotional Fitness workout for sure, but we are the grown-ups. We must remain the parent and not look for reassurance from our children, nor become jealous challenging their heart with threats of jealousy, resentment or martyrdom.
It is vital to remember the ex is only your ex, not the children’s ex.
5. WE CAN’T CONTROL ANYONE BUT OURSELVES.
My therapist reminded me repeatedly to stay out of the relationship between my boy’s new STEPDAD as it matured. As males they all deserved the dignity of learning their own mistakes and enjoying their own hard-earnt triumphs with each other. We need to check ourselves as adults if we are entering into a new relationship with a person that does not share the same moral compass with us when it comes to parenting. Why are we allowing them around our children if we don’t trust them?
First things first! Our exs also are probably not always great at communicating with us; otherwise they perhaps would not be an ex. So any new lovers or STEPPARENTS that enter our child’s orbit, as long as our children are safe, we need to step back and mind our own business and give these new relationships a chance to blossom in their own right without our fears or jealousies hijacking happiness for everyone.
Hopefully I have opened up some perspectives to digest to help gain clarity on what helps and harms when it comes to STEPFAMILIES. My view is that the children’s needs come before the parents. We are the adults that must deal with any insecurities, jealousies or unfinished business with our ex away from the children so they can get on with being children, not surrogate partners or friends.
As healthy role models regardless of whether we are biological parents or STEPPARENTS, I believe that we need to imagine the amazing adult we would like our children to become, and then we must become that.
Lotsa love Cynthia xxx
© Copyright 2017 Cynthia J. Morton Emotional Fitness™
This Word Vitamin is an excerpt from my latest bookset “The Four Seasons of the Heart”. If you would like to order your own full set of Daily Word Vitamins one for each day of the year, in book form for yourself or as a gift for another just click on the shop tab to place your order. Happy shopping x