A man and a woman sat in my waiting room. When I ushered them into 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