Happy New Year to all of you!
I believe there are five important actions necessary to help a stepfamily succeed. OK well, there might be more than five but let's just talk about the most important ones. It goes without saying that most of you will get these five points and agree with me. Putting them into practice is the harder part for all of us. None of us are perfect but most of us want to try. That is all we can ask of ourselves. All of us are vulnerable, tender human beings.
A psychologist that I worked with said that 80% of all people are“ the mostly people.” She said that we are “ mostly well, most of the time, in most situations.” By this I think she means that most of us try hard to do what we think is the right thing in all situations. However, we do make mistakes sometimes.
And that is ok.
So here are the BIG FIVE ACTIONS
It goes without saying that all of us need to be loved. Just think, if someone said “ I love you no matter what”, how good that would feel. It has been proven that we can't grow up in a healthy way without love. It is the responsibility of all families to show and teach the meaning of love. The meaning of love is learned from the caregiver as soon as we are born. That is just how important being loved is.
Love is taught in many ways. By making sure that everyone knows no matter what mistakes are made, or if we do something silly we will still be loved. The message of love can be spoken or suggested, such as a hug or a written note of kindness or a special treat for just being. It is about little actions. There are many little ways to show you care.
A stepfamily that shows love is always a safe place to land for all the members.
What we know for sure is that no one can be himself or herself unless they feel loved. No one can reach out and take risks in life if they don't feel loved. Most importantly, no one can give love unless they have been loved. That is how important showing love is!!!!
Stepfamily members need to show each other that each of the members is cared about. This can happen in a healthy stepfamily over time. The message that you care about someone much be sincere that's why it takes time to get to know each other first. It isn’t just the parents who can show love. Once children trust each other, they then learn to love each other over time too and that is what makes a stepfamily work.
A young stepmom, let’s call her Judy, remarried after her husband died. She has two children, a boy and a girl, and her new husband, whose wife also died a few years before, has one son. Unfortunately, after a few years the new husband died also. Judy then had three children to take care of which she did with a lot of energy and love. She cared about them all and supported them financially and emotionally. It wasn’t easy but she never gave up. Without even thinking twice she treated her stepson just the same as her biological children.
Today all three are healthy and responsible adults with children of their own.
A good true story….the power of love!
2. MANAGE CHANGE:
My client put her head in her hands and said’ “ how will my children manage another move, another home, and another school? How will they cope with all this change?”
One thing we know also is that everything in life is always changing. Every day is new. Change is a constant for everyone. Therefore, being flexible and rolling with change has got to be the best way to deal with it. I think it is important to teach your children that they need to expect things will change. It has to be one of life’s lessons.
Stepfamilies are always dealing with changes. Each day can have a different challenge. That is what makes stepfamilies strong. Each member needs to shifts and adjusts to whatever the day brings. Those members who are stressed out by changes might need help to get though some situations. Things may change but a family can deal with those changes if they do it together. Sometimes we have to think past obstacles in our way and count our blessings. I think it takes courage to be in such a complicated family but being in a stepfamily is full of wonder and joy too. Try not to forget that changes can be for the better in a stepfamily also.
I suggested that my client ask her children to help her make this next move. She needed to tell them her worries and ask them for help. Children are much more resilient than we give them credit. I wondered if it was possible to make it fun too?
Together they did make plans and together they did make it work. The mother wrote down all the thing that needed to be done and she let the children pick the jobs they wanted to do. She allowed them a day off school to help with the actual move and that was a big hit. Sure, none of this was without a struggle but she never told her children change was going to be easy. Pulling together sure helped though.
3. ACCEPT EACH OTHER:
Everyone in a stepfamily is different. That is the wonder of it! There are no two of us alike. Each person has his/her own personality and needs to be allowed to be themselves in the family. Members need to walk their own path. So no lectures or trying to push them in the direction you want. As a parent you can guide but not order. This is of course unless they are moving in an unhealthy or unsafe direction.
Not all stepfamilies have children that grew up together. We know that children change as they grow and develop. Therefore, all the members have to work hard to understand each other and accept each other for who they are. That isn’t always easy even for the parents. It is a step-by-step-by-step process.
In order to get to know and understand someone in your family here are some thoughts. Listen to each other, watch the body language of each person and don’t interrupt. Silence is golden because it gives the other person time to think and respond. And then, before you know it you will have a better idea about that person because of the way they express themselves. Ask questions and try to understand what they are telling you. (Silence is a tool that therapists use to encourage their clients to talk.)
We are blessed with a family member who really should have been a psychiatrist. At an early age he seemed to understand each of the others in the family, including his stepsiblings. His empathy for others was incredible even at the early age of 8. He just “got” people and he taught us all about not being judgmental and to accept each family member for who they were. This is a case of child teaching adults. Lucky for us.
Stepparents, especially if they don’t have children of their own, often worry that they will be misunderstood or lost when they step into a stepfamily. It is a real worry. However, the stepparent is the adult and will have to work at getting to know the children before their efforts will be reciprocated. Give it time though and don’t get discouraged because chances are it will happen. All children want to be loved. Just watch and you will see that all children, no matter their age, will be open to someone who truly cares about them.
4.RECOGNIZED EVERYONES ACHIEVEMENTS:
Stepfamilies have very busy households. Usually the parents are running in order to get to all the children’s activities and keep everyone happy. It can be hard to stop long enough to recognize each other’s successes.
Everyone needs to achieve at something and be recognized for it in order to grow. Parents need to prioritize what is important so that you can give more time to actually “seeing” what the family members are doing. I can’t stress enough that you have to look for the positives. Looking for the positives can be taxing at first. However, it becomes easy if you do it enough. It is as simple as watching and saying,“ That’s good” or “ I see the effort you put into that. Well done.” This builds confidence and self-esteem. We know that self-esteem is not overrated! Before you know it, your family will become a safe place to take risks, and a place where all the members will be proud of themselves for trying and for achieving at something important to them.
My stepdaughter is a talented filmmaker. After she produced her first short film we showed her film on a big screen and invited all the family to come and watch. Afterwards we had a little party. It was amazing how our young lady glowed from the compliments and accolades she received. It really helped to build her confidence. She continued in her career over the next few years and never looked back.
5. VALUE TEAMWORK:
My friends got a dog. Of course no one walked or fed the dog except the parents. The children in the stepfamily, and many other families too, expected the parents to look after the dog. Oh, they were willing to hug it and pat it but that is about all. In a stepfamily the children usually move back and forth between houses. They don’t see the dog every day. Therefore, the dog never really mattered much because the children never bonded with him. The parents were frustrated.
The children needed to be emotionally invested in the dog’s well being in order to care about it. I suggested they call a family meeting and divvy up the responsibilities of looking after this dog. Guess what? The children began to consider the dog as their personal friend, buddy and confidant. They found that walking and feeding the dog could actually be fun. Well, most of the time anyway.
Teamwork is important in all stepfamilies. You will have so much more success when your family buys into a plan. Talk about important situations and make plans together. Family meeting work well because all members of the family get a chance to contribute their ideas and help with the family issues before anger and bitterness set in. Stick to the plan and celebrate all successes when they happen. Don’t be afraid to rewrite the plan if necessary. Working as a team makes the stepfamily manageable and stronger. Your family is stronger together!!
In conclusion, I can not emphasize enough how important these five actions are in creating a happy stepfamily or truth be told, any family.
And by the way, I want to be a member of the “mostly people” club. Do you?