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Excerpt from Chapter Three. Shaping and Knowing Your Own Boundaries

Each member of a stepfamily has a different idea of what constitutes the family. Close biological ties extend beyond the threshold when children have a parent who lives elsewhere and/or when they go back and forth between households. Conversely, one member of a stepcouple may exclude the other’s children from his or her emotional clan or a child may refuse to acknowledge a stepparent as a family member.

Stepcouples must try to be flexible and inclusive. It eases their own path and also provides a model of adaptability for the children in the household. In a stepfamily, everyone must stretch their former comfort zones to include new people and unfamiliar ways of doing things. As boundaries expand, the loyalty that once flowed along blood lines loosens enough to permit a stepfamily to grow.

The greatest challenge you face when cut out of your stepchild’s definition of family is to avoid taking the rejection personally. This is much easier said than done.

Eight months after we remarried, my stepdaughter turned twelve. Before her birthday, our stepfamily was discussing how to celebrate.

“I know what I want,” Gina said. She turned to her dad and said, “How about if our family goes out for dinner?” Bill said fine, and asked me what I thought.

“No, Dad,” she said. “I mean just us.” She pointed at him and her brother. “Just our family, not them.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Gina meant that my sons and I weren’t invited on her birthday because we didn’t fit inside her definition of family. I felt like an outcast.

Constant rejection by a stepchild can be a huge test of your stepcouple relationship.

I felt shocked and hurt, and Bill felt pulled apart. It took hours of talking for us to understand the situation and reach a solution we both could live with. We decided to share a family party the night of her birthday, and he took her out for pizza the next night.

— SHARON, FIFTY-SIX, STEPCOUPLING FOR 28 YEARS

Recognize that you’re dealing with a child’s unresolved and unspoken issues. Distress, not malice, prompts children to declare “Get away from me!” Assume that a rejecting stepchild is so overwhelmed with feelings of grief, loss, and anger that he or she must lash out. This understanding can help you avoid taking it personally and, more important, begin to understand your stepchild’s experience from his or her point of view.

 

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