Do you get so wrapped up in your stepcouple relationship that you ignore the kids? When you’re behind closed doors fighting …or the opposite…what are the kids doing? What are they thinking? Do they need your attention when you’re not available? What are their stories? Do you know… or do you care?
I ask only because I’ve been there! There were times when we just weren’t available to our kids due to our own desires…sad to say. I’m sure we’re all guilty at times. But from where I stand today…hindsight, of course… I think I could/should have been more sensitive and attentive to the kids’ feelings and needs. That may sound strange coming from one who strongly advocates for stepcouple bonding at all costs. But sometimes there are costs. There are ways that a stepcouple can have a balance of both – a rich and rewarding partnership as well as rich and rewarding relationships with the kids…his, hers, and theirs. I believe this balance is a goal worth working for…even though it’s not easy or even what you want at times.
Think about it. If you believe that the stepcouple is the foundation, heart, and soul of the stepfamily, it follows that whatever the adults do (and even think!) trickles down to the kids. Trust me, it just does! Therefore it’s up to the stepcouple to control what trickles down. If the stepcouple sends out the message that their relationship needs are all that matters, the kids will feel left out and resentful…and rightfully so. If the stepcouple sends out a different message that while they love each other very much, what really matters is the success and happiness of all the members of the stepfamily. This stepcouple will strive to develop a positive stepfamily culture.
A good way to address this as a stepcouple is TO THINK about what you want for your kids. Talk to each other. Ask yourselves “How do you want your kids to grow up and what memories of childhood do you want them to have?”
Some things our (grown) children still remember are: We always ate dinner together whether we liked it or not…we loved our big Christmas celebrations, but we didn’t like the thank you notes that our parents made us write… family vacations were really fun, but never enough…. we skied, went to the beach, and one time we all flew to New Orleans for the holidays…sometimes we’d get so angry at our stepparents…we wished they’d just go away and leave us alone…Dad and Mom spent a lot of time together out of sight…that was sort of weird…they used to go on trips together without us…we tried to be a regular family, but we really weren’t…there were good times and not so good times…
From the wisdom of experience and hindsight, I offer two thoughts for stepcouples to address as they travel on their stepfamily journey.
1. Stepcouples should think about how to balance stepcoupling and parenting/stepparenting demands. There are so many things you can do to include the children and make them feel that they are cared for and that they belong. The stepcouple relationship can only be enhanced by reaching out to the kids and respecting them for who they are.
2. Stepcouples should discuss and negotiate parenting roles and guidelines while coparenting. Begin by projecting into the future and imagine your kids’ feelings and stories they will carry with them as they grow. Will they feel that they were cared for adequately? What will they tell their friends, future partners and children about growing up in a stepfamily? How will you feel about the part you played in each child’s development? Is your stepcouple relationship something that you want your kids to model after? And lastly what kind of relationship do you want to have with the kids after they grow up?
Talking calmly as a couple and listening to what your partner has to say will pave the way for mutual decisions not only in your best interests but also your kids… whoever and wherever they are.
Licensed Professional Counselor