As the end of the Summer nears, so does the 6-8 weeks of Summer visitation time you spend with your children and step-children if you are the non-custodial parents. More often than not, hearts are saddened when its time to pack them up again and send them back, but for some stepparents, its actually a time of relief. I know that last sentence may be a little hard to swallow for the many step-parents, including myself, who do not feel that way, but unfortunately it is something that is a reality for many.
Case in point, a co-worker of mine (we will call her June), every single day at our lunch hour during the Summer, she describes in detail, as she puts it, “her 8 weeks of Hell.” June’s step-daughter and step-son come every Summer. June and her 14 year old step-daughter bump heads (most of the conflicts come from the child not abiding by the house rules, playing two ends to the middle between her mom and dad, etc. etc. – most normal things children of divorce experience). June and her step-son do just fine and enjoy one another.
While my co-worker’s husband is rolling out the red carpet treatment, June is dreading the inevitable squabbles, guilt-trips (June’s children live with June and her husband and the step-daughter resents it), temper-tantrums (yes, she still has them at 14) and the constant arguments about the re-establishment of the house rules.
Let me just say that June isn’t a mean-spirited person by far and is actually one of the sweetest people I know. It’s just that she, like many other step-parents, have a hard time dealing with teenage step-children who already have pre-formed opinions (mostly due to their pain from the divorce but also due to their custodial parents’ disparagement of the step-parent), emotions and feelings; not to mention June’s step-daughter goes out of her way to come in between her dad and step-mom. The anxiety June feels before Summer starts is so bad that she has even mentioned that she hopes that her and her husband are short on money that Summer so they don’t have to send for her step-daughter. This statement will seem very selfish to some, but it is a sad and true reality of how hard it is sometimes to blend families. It is not only hard on the children of divorce, but on the step-parents as well, and unfortunately BFSO readers, it is more common than we think.
In defense of June’s step-daughter, I recall one of my most poignant memories as a young 10 year old child. It was the Summer of 1977 and my siblings and I had to travel to California to spend the Summer with my dad, stepmother and her 3 children. I think this was the hardest Summer of my life. Here not only had I not seen my father in more than 4 years, I had to walk into his new life, with his new family that was so different from our old family, and I was scared to death. I was jealous, confused and I did I mention that I missed my mom terribly? None of our feelings were taken into consideration ever and on top of it, we were to immediately get used to living in a strange home for the next 8 weeks. Talk about stress!
In our discussions, I realized that June really wants to change the situation she and her step-daughter are experiencing? In my opinion, first and foremost, instead of rolling out the red carpet (my husband’s ex wife calls this the “Mr. Fun” syndrome) when your child arrives, it’s more important to keep your home functioning as it normally would when they are not there. Rolling out the red carpet may seem special at first, but it really actually makes your child feel more like a visitor once the “fun” wears off. Instead, make them feel like they are coming Home.
If there are issues like the above in your blended family, here are some tips to help you get through the storm:
1. Communicate with your husband/wife about what is going on. Get on the same page and stand together about your house rules, roles, etc.
2. Spouses need to spend alone time together to focus on themselves. VERY IMPORTANT.
3. Do your best to get to know your step-child. Take baby steps. If they don’t respond right away, don’t write them off. Keep in mind that divorce and remarriage is an extremely hard transition for children and especially for teenagers.
4. Look into family counseling.
5. Read this book: One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies by Lisa Cohn. This book is AWESOME!
Remember, transitioning is hard enough for children who switch every other weekend, let alone have to leave their moms, dads, friends and homes in another state or town for 6-8 weeks at a time. Nurture your step-children if they will allow you. If they don’t, just be there for them and be that listening ear when they are ready. As for June, her step-children are back in Colorado and she and her step-daughter made good progress this Summer and they both made a promise to be better to eachother in the future. Baby steps…….
Peace and blessings,