No matter how much we’d like to think that our stepfamily will be the one to make a fast transition to this new life, that we’ll be the ones to do it differently, that we’ll connect more easily than others, it just doesn’t work out that way. We could be the most enlightened souls and still the process of the transition from separate individuals to connected group takes time. Lots of time.
It takes time because it’s not just a matter of posting a list of new house rules on the refrigerator and expecting everyone to follow them. It takes letting every single person have the time to process the transition away from single parent to married parent. It takes time for both the adults and the children in the equation to come to a new understanding. There is no rushing the process.
Things that will slow connection down seem pretty obvious. Age of kids, age of adults, how many years since divorce of parents, where everyone lives, what house is lived in, whether there’s been a change of schools complete with new friends. The number of variables are so vast that there’s just no way any book can describe YOUR family and be accurate. Did the mother move out of the family home? Did she relinquish custody of her kids? Did she then want custody back later? Did the father move out of the family home? Did he honor his obligations? Did the mother continue to intrude on the father’s life even after the two of them had separated? The list goes on and is endless.
In watching my own and my friends’s stepfamilies, I’ve noticed several things that help speed up the process of connection for a remarried father and his family. When the father insists that the children treat him with respect. When the father sets boundaries and limits on the child’s behavior. When the stepmother leaves the communication with the mother of the children to her husband. When the stepmother sets (occasional) limits for the children, remember most of the time it’s best if the father does the limit-setting that the two of you have talked about together. But, if the stepmother is completely silent, this is not healthy in the least and the children have no idea how to approach her and the distance remains. Of course, these are not recommendations for everyone, because every single stepfamily is different. Every single one.
In some situations, especially when the father is out of town, it’s important for the stepmother to keep the house rules going, gently and firmly. I’ve seen this pay off in such a sweet way. One friend of mine became the custodial stepmother for a 9-year-old who’d experienced no emphasis on education prior to him living with his dad and stepmom. My friend tutored him and helped him develop study habits and reinforced his learning abilities and the fact that he was quite bright. He went on to college, much to his own surprise. Now this young man is almost done with college and he trusts her and consults with her about his problems and their connection is very strong.
On many days/months/years . . . the best thing a healthy stepmother can do to help with the building of a connection is to keep her thoughts focused and calmed and steady, we could call it self-soothing. And, she could remember that even when a stepmother does her part and learns her role and doesn’t over-step and doesn’t take on the child-rearing and doesn’t intrude in certain boundary issues, her influence will only go so far. She’s not the only family member. The father, her husband, has self-soothing to learn. The children have self-soothing to learn. But, you’d be surprised how quickly a child learns and adjusts to a routine when the adults are able to self-soothe and how quickly that child will learn self-soothing from them.
It’s a little like a peace-in. Everyone sits in the circle and thinks good thoughts about the others. Hee hee, like that will happen? But, you could think it in your head. Think it over and over and over and imagine what you’d do if there was ever an opportunity when the children came into your presence with calm and curiosity and an un-agenda. What would you do? Would you be able to see that moment or would you be playing the memory-video of all the days/months/years of hurtness and rejection?
Me, I’m all over the self-soothing and the peace-in.