These days step-families abound. Step-moms and dads and all of the kids in-between who are connected by marriage have to navigate the waters of family with more rules than usual. Unfortunately, those rules are often times left unwritten and these relationships hit major ice-bergs in icy seas of misunderstanding due to plain lack of caring and love. Blending a family is not as easy as placing the ingredients in your vita-mix and hitting start, resulting in a perfect, good-for-you concoction. Nope. It takes a lot more than that. In the process of blending a family, moms and dads should never ever walk away from their biological children and replace them or ignore them. Moving on never means moving away from our children. But I am guessing for too many, that behavior is the easiest. Since the subject is complex, my focus is on the children and their vulnerable hearts and souls.
I feel for the children left behind. When I was nine my father called and told me that he had a cute little girl who was my age sitting on his knee. I was replaced in my world view and this moment seared my soul and heart. Many children don’t get that literal call, but they get the call- their father or mother have moved away and other children sleep in the rooms down the hall. Other children are getting the attention, the face-time, the relationship. No mater how healthy the split, the child will feel pain. It is the nature of the beast.
In my line of work I see the failures much more often than the blueprint for success. Since humans mess up a lot on being human which makes us human, melding a family is never an easy road. In the biblical sense we are taught that the number one relationship is with God, then the marriage, then the children. But what if the marriage is asking a parent to place the biological child further down the scale? That is a heavy load to put on a child’s psyche. I personally cannot understand or comprehend a parent looking at their biological child and loathing them due to the fact that half of their DNA comes from their enemy. Adults need to separate the emotion and place it in the correct boxes, some with a lock and key. So often the new spouse is given the control to dictate the rules of the new home’s relationships. Though spouses are second on the list after God, we must remember that The Word was geared toward the two and the two’s children; not the second, third and fourth and so on.
Your babies need to be loved and feel safe and should never be used as a weapon, pawn, tool or rag in the melding of the new relationship. Ever.
Marry into a teenager and life may throw a big rod in your engine. What to do when the teenager you now refer to as step-daughter or step-son hates you for being step-parent and for no other reason? What if they are being schooled by the parent left behind on how to feel and act in their new situation? It gets trickier and trickier the more people there are in the new melting pot. Some are content to the mix and others fight the family recipe and the batch is bad twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.
The easy answer is to actively parent no matter the circumstances. Kids know when an adult cares- when they really care. Humans have innate mechanisms for survival, and step-family survival is tactical. Do they have to fight for attention? Beg for it? Become a problem and get it by default?
They should get unconditional love and attention. They should be parented; period. That is the key…parenting; it unlocks doors to life relationships which is an ongoing transference of energy.
Step-moms and dads need to step back and allow their new spouse to be the most important person to their children. I have seen adults become jealous of a parent/child relationship and it is the ugliest of faces a step can wear. Can the biological parent become over-permissive to make-up for the pain of the broken home? Yes. Can they become overly giving in money, lack a bit in saying no when they should? Yes. Even when the step-parent sees this it is possibly not the battle to engage. Talk it out, present in an adult/parent space and maybe both in the new-couple bond can learn.
But I know that for many step-families there is no thoughtfulness when it comes to creating a healthy mix. Socio-economicly speaking, even the haves do not. I watched a little boy be completely ignored by his father after he married a woman with no children. The new family, one that could make the cover of Christian Living, excluded in every way the first born biological son of the father.
There was no room in her heart and she was never confronted with the prospect of opening a space for him at all. I often wondered how she has reconciled the pain her step-son felt while his siblings literally had the best of everything? The child who was left out found a nice home in jail as dad and step-mother shook their heads and placed the entire blame on biological mom and of course the child himself.
Not every abandoned child becomes a literal prisoner, but many are held hostage to their own emotions. They feel not good enough, shame, less-than, invisible. These thoughts do not magically disappear at age 18. No, they may become the corner stones for their lives.
If you have a child, raise them. It is not the step-parent’s job immediately upon saying “I do.” They need to grow into the new job and learn their new children. They may need help, counseling, prayer, understanding. You see, Steps, it may not be God first, then you then the children from the other marriages, and it may seem unbalanced at first, BUT, if the step-parents learn to love and desire to protect these children, order will be restored to the Universe.