Mothers and Stepmothers Don
- They Need to be REAL
By Maxine Marsolini
Despite Diane working eight to five, nine-year-old
Jason must get to soccer practice after school
and six-year-old Judy has a ballet lesson at four
every Tuesday. Tom and Josh, her stepchildren, live at their house three
days a week. Life after remarriage has so many balls to juggle Diane
often wonders how she will keep them all in the air. A full time job,
groceries to buy, laundry to wash, bath time, bedtime, prayer time … and
a new husband asking, “When do you have time for me?” To
make matters worse, it seems the happy family she expected to find lives at
house. Diane questions why her children are often angry and act out in
ways she’s never seen before. She struggles to sort out all the
added emotional needs. “Going to work is the most peaceful part
of my day,” she
Diane is so consumed with time management, she’s overlooked two far greater
problems. Families like hers often live with grief in residence and love
on a holiday. At a time like this, it’s normal for a woman’s
concern for her children’s welfare to heighten while her self-confidence
may plummet to an all time low. Emotions are still raw from the break
up of her prior family.
Blended families are great classrooms for interpersonal training. The lack of blood relationships creates lots of raw material that lends itself to natural opportunities. With a little help children can learn to compromise, to exercise compassion, to love their neighbor (stepsibling) as themselves, to ask forgiveness, to vent grievances and to pray for others. As a parent, get involved. Begin to prioritize the end result rather than getting so caught up in today’s problems. Ask yourself, “What do I want my family to look like in five years? How can we get there?” With that in mind, lets dig deeper into the effects of grief and love.
By all rights, childhood should be life’s most carefree time. Ice cream cones, roller skates and outings with Mom and Dad. The discovery that frogs come from tadpoles and beautiful painted butterflies used to be wiggly caterpillars. Fears are only as harmless as the Boogie Man who hides under the bed after the lights have been turned out. Children take it for granted that Mommy loves Daddy and Daddy loves Mommy. In an ideal world all that would be so. Not so for boys and girls whose childhood has been interrupted by divorce. These children have been forced to experience feelings of grief before they are old enough to know what grief is. They learn the people they love the most aren’t always going to be there for them. Life doesn’t seem fair. So boys and girls do what immaturity dictates. They get angry, rebellious, clingy or withdrawn. But all these actions may not be the real problem.
It’s safe to believe grief is responsible for a great deal of either the unruly outbursts, or the withdrawn behaviors children can exhibit after a family breakup. Actions replace words when emotions can’t be defined. Genuine sadness is felt when Daddy doesn’t come home. A child’s overall adjustments to new circumstances improve when a custodial parent reacts with sensitivity to their feelings. Mothers are in a great position to help boys and girls process grief. Children tend to relax when concepts are put into bite-size pieces that make sense on age appropriate levels. If possible let your conversation detour through your heart, before a word leaves your mouth.
Children are not equipped emotionally to choose sides between Mom and Dad. Demonstrate love for your son or daughter by letting go of any remaining issues you may harbor against your ex-spouse. The fact that he is the children’s father won’t change. And they should not feel bad about loving Daddy. A mom who wants to help her child move through the grief process might say, “I know you feel bad because Daddy won’t be home every night like before, but he will be here on Saturday. You are very special to Daddy. Daddy and I will never stop loving you. In fact, you are the best thing we did together.” In the same way, a stepmom can bless her stepchild when she chooses to honor their mother.
After a child accepts grief as a real part of life, don’t get stuck there. For blended families, the past doesn’t have closure. We must seize opportunities to create new beginnings as change charts our course. Happy times offset fearful days.
Am I Really Loved?
Because love is questioned more often in stepfamilies, it has to be addressed with deeper concern. Failed relationships leave damaged emotions. People form new family units but bring with them the effects of shattered love. The whole family can question whether or not they are really loved. They may even want to know if they are worthy of being loved. Children have been known to feel responsible for the prior family’s inability to stay together. Selfish and uncertain hopes mingles beside the silent questions, “Am I really loved? Will this love last?”
It’s important to understand love correctly. Love is not the silly feel-good sensual encounter television has led us to believe. Love is much more than an emotion. Love is first and foremost a decision in the mind. We get to choose whom we love. Second, love is always an act of the will. Feelings come after the actions we choose, not before. Third, love is not selfish. It conveys a commitment to do what is best for the other person.
Deliberate love decisions are possible even when a stepchild screams, “You’re not my mom.” Without a genetic tie binding you to that child, the only way you will feel family is to accept that child into your heart. It’s a personal decision. Once your mind is made up let your stepchild know your love for him or her will not go away. Children who have experienced parental betrayal will need extra time to believe you can be trusted not to abandon them. They may even test your resilience with defiance. Again, seek out the question of love lurking under the behavior. Stick to your love decision. Trust grows over time. Your persistence lays foundation blocks that say, “I value you.”
When feelings of love aren’t felt, family harmony will be almost impossible. Pieced-together families are fragile families. Pent up emotions will find expression. When they do, anger or depression can escalate out of control. Since most custodial parents are women, we hold the daunting position, or the awesome privilege, of being very instrumental in the overall adjustments a child will make.
Bonding Blessings Begin When You…
1. Love apart from performance. People are important just because they are made in God’s image, not because they succeed in doing what we want.
2. Choose to forgive before you are asked.
3. Discipline as a time to teach and affirm, not a time to dole out unusual punishment and lessen self-esteem.
4. Avoid the Cinderella syndrome. This fosters jealousy and feelings of unworthiness. Favoritism says, my family and your family are very different entities even though we live under the same roof.
5. Create personal space for each child. A dresser of his own, a closet space. This little act says, ‘you are an important member of our family’.
7. Hold regular family meetings. Allow each person, from the youngest to the oldest, to have a voice. To get off on the right foot make it a rule that a positive has to be said before a problem is addressed.
8. Address and seek help for serious issues of rage, substance abuse, or suicidal comments without delay. Silence may result in worse consequences.
9. Keep fun alive! A family who plays together, and laughs together, is more likely
to blend well.
10. Start your day with prayer. Pray often.