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A Healing Story about a Stepmother

October 12th, 2009

Gretchen’s story is heart warming. Childless, she married a man who had a young son. The bio mom had full time custody. When the boy was 6 years old, his bio mom got sick and died not long after. Dad and stepmom took over raising his child. Gretchen, of course, wasn’t expecting this! She hardly knew the boy. And she wasn’t happy about it.

The boy wasn’t just any child. He was ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and not well socialized. He was a boy of few words. When I met Gretchen, she complained, “He’s just weird! He won’t communicate.”

Over the years, she’s struggled in her effort to raise her stepson. “I just want him to get along in the world, be responsible and have friends.” Now that he’s in high school, she says, “He’s still just ‘weird’. She says he’s a loner but a whiz at his favorite computer game. Exasperated she asks me “Why won’t he just talk to me and tell me what he’s thinking and feeling?” I always tell her, “I don’t know why, but that just seems to be the way he is.” (Not exactly soothing or supportive words.)

Recently we’ve been talking about the deceased mother, what happened to her and what affect it might have had on her stepson.

When I saw Gretchen recently, she was different. She told me about a breakthrough she’d had. She suddenly began thinking about her stepson in a different light. She found herself thinking about all he’s been through and the horrible loss he suffered when he was just 6. The mother he knew and loved went out of his life. Gretchen got in touch with how sad that was. She felt sorry for him. Her feelings changed from impatience and anger to empathy and sadness. She was upset and tearful.

She’d now like to reach out and talk with her now 16 year old stepson about his loss. She wants to tell him that he is cared for and loved… and always will be. She knows full well he’ll probably not have much to say. But that’s okay with her.

Susan Wisdom
October 2009

Stepsibling Fights and Parent’s Reactions

October 5th, 2009

A man and a woman sat in my waiting room. When I ushered them intogs175035 my office they sat obediently on the couch. They sat as far away from each other as they possibly could. They wouldn’t look at each other. They hadn’t talked for a week or two. Somehow I was able to get some information from them. It all started over a Sunday afternoon fight between his daughter and her daughter. His daughter accused her daughter of “telling a lie” and “getting her into trouble”. Both girls complained to their bio parent. The parents got hooked and took sides defending their own child and accusing the other of hideous behavior. Each bio parent stuck up for his or her child. Each blamed their partner for the spoiled, devious child he/she and the ex-spouse raised.

I sat and witnessed this stepcouple deteriorate to nastiness in front of my very eyes. Words flew out of their mouths and insults were slung… until I put a stop to it.

Both were angry, sad, and hurting, for certain. They didn’t know what to do. They were stuck and had reached a painful impasse. What a far cry from those happier times when they couldn’t stay away from each other. The question was “will/can they get it back”?

That depends on a lot of things. First, do they want it? Are they willing to do what they have to do in order to stop pitting the kids against each other and to stop putting the kids in the middle of their relationship. Nothing poisons and splits a relationship faster than “your kid is a liar, a loser, a brat” etc. Now I don’t mean to minimize the stab to a parent’s heart to hear criticism of their child. But, if you are a stepcouple, aren’t you supposed to be uniting as a team, understanding each other and each other’s kids, and offering up ways to reduce the tension and competition? Aren’t you supposed to be acting like “big people,” adults, and grown ups?

Here’s an opportunity for the stepcouple to stand up together and demonstrate to the kids that they (the kids) have to take some responsibility to get along in the stepfamily. Make it clear that every child belongs and deserves respect. The parents are not there to protect and bail out their kid at the first sign of conflict but they are there to smooth out and develop healthy stepsibling relationships They are also there to lead in a process of solving problems effectively. Ironically if the parents loosen their protective, possessive grip on their kids, (often motivated by guilt) the kids have a better chance of figuring out these new relationships and dealing with them.

As always, the more stepcouples can do to strengthen and stabilize their relationship, the more they can give to their mutual children and the more secure everyone can feel in the stepfamily.

Susan Wisdom LPC
October 2009

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