When I wrote my last blog on the stepmom struggles with adult children, I was quite surprised by the lack of information out there on stepfamilies with adult stepchild dynamics and challenges. The vast majority of research and literature tends to focus on stepfamilies with school age kids. One could easily assume that by the time the littles grow up the issues SHOULD be done. No more disciplining, no more child support, no more tough transitions between the homes, no more ex- wife competition. Smooth sailing! BUT that may not always be the case. Newer challenges come up as kids reach adult status. Post Secondary education, wedding politics, and grandchildren just to name a few. The focus of my last blog was on the couple strength. It is imperative that the focus be on strengthening the couple during those earlier years- well all the years really. It’s so easy to forget that critical component of family life in the day to day struggles of daily routines. A solid couple relationship definitely determines the life span of the stepcouple relationship.
Through her clinical work and her research, Patricia Papernow wrote about the cycle of the stepfamily. There are 7 stages according to her research. It can take anywhere from 4 to 12 years for the family to reach the resolution stage (or less or more or not at all) where the family has formed it’s own identity as a family and are more solid in that identity. This is where the couple are a strong presence in the stepfamily. This is also a place where your relationships with your adult stepchildren are more positive. The longevity of your intimate relationship should have provided the opportunity to iron out most of the issues. But again, that may not be the case.
First of all it’s important to not get hung up on how this was supposed to go and what it was supposed to look like after this long. The seven stages are a tool to help you figure out where you’ve been and what’s coming next. It’s not a neat tidy linear progression where if you don’t end up like the Brady Bunch so be it. Let go of those expectations and take a deep breath and accept it for what it is not what it was supposed to be. That may require some grieving, but it’s ok and so are you. That can also be a liberating realization!
If your family hasn’t reached that solidified stage by the time the kids have launched then make sure you and your spouse are a strong presence, regardless. By making sure you are on the same page and that the expectations of your adult children’s behaviours are respectful. It’s also important to remember, they are no longer children so you also have to be respectful to them. Treat them like an adult and expect them to act like adults too. Respect their relationship with their dad. Support him to go OUT with them to do the things they like to do. If you aren’t a happy family, why should you act like it. That’s the joy of “adult” relationships- you don’t have to hang around with people you don’t get along with. Supporting his relationship with them can help them with feelings of jealousy and territorial issues that may come up.
And if nothing else, focus on the perks of having no kids in your home. Travelling, more financial freedom… And I’m sure you can think of a few more . Plus, they just have to deal with the fact that they aren’t living at home, they have no say what happens there (and neither does the ex anymore) and that their dad is an adult who also deserves happiness and love. End of discussion 🙂