Tuesday, December 11, 2012

You & Your Stepkids

For good or evil, more than likely the people in your stepfamily that get the most attention are the ones you weren't even thinking most about when you decided to get re-married.

You and your girl-or-boy friend sat holding hands while dreamily playing what-if about being together all the time in your home, and —almost as an afterthought— how nice it would be for the kids to have a "real" home again.

Also more than likely, your kids were either pretty positive about the upcoming marriage, or at least they didn't raise too much dust...until the wedding was over. Following the wedding, most stepparents are shocked to see a rapidly escalating roar of rebellion.

Angry statements like "You're not my dad!" "I don't have to listen to you!" and "I hate you!!" come out of nowhere. And suddenly what was supposed to be Heaven with your new family takes a downward turn.

What went wrong? And more importantly, how can you fix it?

Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is there are ways to make your home much happier. The bad news is it's gonna take work—from everyone, especially you. But before we start fixing the problem, we need to get an idea of why there's a problem and what the problem is.

In his book, Stepparent is Not A Bad Word, David Nowell states,
"[stepkids]feel the nervous excitement of the upcoming [wedding] ceremony, the final realization that Mom and Dad are not going to get together again, the joy of seeing a parent really in love, jealousy at that same love, budding affection for the new stepparent, ... add to the mixture a few adolescent hormones, and it can become too much to handle."

Re-marriage isn't even easy for the husband and wife, and we're adults who are relatively experienced with handing stresses. To a child who's had to experience a death or divorce and the subsequent adjustment to life with a single parent, the introduction of a new "family" is often too difficult to grasp.

Puppies and Kittens

When they are faced with a new authority figure and competitor for their parent's affection, many stepkids will react in one of two ways. I like to think of it as either a "puppy" or a "kitten" reaction.

Let me explain, if a puppy is placed in an unfamiliar environment and suddenly confronted, he will probably tuck his tail, let out a whimper, and head under the sofa. On the other hand, if a kitten is placed in the same environment and scared, she will probably arch her back, lay back her ears, spit, and strike out in self-defense.

And most stepkids will react one of these ways depending on their personality and recent experiences. A "puppy" will withdraw from family functions and pull into himself. He may speak civilly to both parents, but inside, he is resentful of both their parts in the upheaval of his world. Eventually, a puppy will explode...either in anger and rebellion, or in escape and possible self-destruction.

If you have a "kitten," though, she probably wasted no time telling you exactly what she thought of the new arrangements! Fur flew and claws were used freely. But these often aren't healthy ventings of feelings, rather they are indications of fears and betrayal that will only get worse until they are dealt with properly.

Your Important Decision

Understanding the problem is one thing. Remembering those reasons in the midst of a screaming match with a wild-eyed teenager is another. But that is just what you have to do. Someone has to act like an adult, and you are the most likely prospect.

As I said earlier, this is going to take a lot of work, especially from you, the stepparent. And actually, that's not really unfair. She's just a kid, after all. You, as the stepparent, are the one who has entered their world. And although her parent is happy with the new set up, your stepdaughter feels like she's lost her best friend and her place as number one in her parent's heart.

The most important thing a stepparent can do for their family's peace of mind is to improve your memory.

  • Remember who's supposed to be more mature, and act like it. 
  • Remember what all they've been through, and try to imagine how you'd feel going through the same messes (maybe you even have!). 
  • And remember that you will be held responsible for how you teach them and react to their challenges. Not officially, not by the courts or the police, but your spouse and your own heart will tell you that you had a hand, even if it is secondary to the bio-parent, in how they turn out.

That last may not seem fair, especially when the kids are older and were raised by someone else during their formative years. But nonetheless most folks will, to a certain extent and perhaps just in their minds, judge you by how they grow up. So you might as well do your best to steer them right.

Because that is your purpose in life.

What did you think it was? Working harder than the next person? Having the most and best toys? Looking your prettiest longer than your friends?

Of course not. None of those things matter. They will all pass away at your death. My mother had a poem hanging by her fireplace that says:

Only one life--
T'will soon be past.
Only what's done
For Christ will last.

That's true. And it especially applies to your stepkids. You never planned to be raising these children — someone else's children. But you are.

You have been given the opportunity to dramatically affect lives that otherwise you may not have ever come into contact with. And what will you do with this opportunity?

I know one stepdad in our area who's solution to a rebellious, smart-mouthed teenaged stepdaughter is to just shut her out. He never gives her any affection or any attention other than to tell her what to do.
His defense is solid: "I give her a roof, a bed, clothes, school; and what does she give me in return? Backtalk and disrespect. I've turned my life upside down for her and she hates me for it. Fine. I'll keep her alive until she can move out. Then she can go to Hell for all I care!"

As a matter of fact, I know several stepparents who are giving up like that. And it is easier than the options. But at what cost? What have you taught in this rare opportunity? That no one can be trusted. That no one cares about them. And that there's no reason to hope. ... And the suicide rate holds steady this year again.

NEVER give up. Never quit saying —and meaning— "I love you."
Be an adult about it. They need love. They need you.
You, working with their parents, are their best, perhaps their last, hope for a good future.

Only one life
T'will soon be past...
What memories of you do you want to last?

STEPcoach Bob

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