Celebrating LOVE In a Step Family
Stepfamilies come in many sizes, shapes and scenarios – there is never a one size fits all. Sometimes love is easy and sometimes love takes time. Sometimes love is reciprocated and sometimes it never comes full circle. One thing that is certain is that stepfamilies are formed because of loss.
Loss comes in many forms: loss of a marriage due to divorce, loss of a spouse to death, betrayal, infidelity and sometimes the loss leaves kids and adults with layers of unanswerable questions. Why did this happen to our family? Why couldn’t my parents work it out? Why do I have to live between two homes? No matter the beautiful benefits of a new stepfamily, the loss that contributed to the formation of the stepfamily often lingers and can complicate everyone’s emotional connections.
Stepfamily love is similar to the process of a crockpot, not a microwave (quote by Ron Deal). Microwaves are quick and create heat in an instant! Crockpots are different; they take a little heat over a long time to create a fully heated meal. The crockpot requires patience and longevity to get the ideal outcome. Kids in a stepfamily will each bond and connect at a different pace. Adults in the stepfamily also take a while to get into a new rhythm of family and to feel as if they all belong together.
A few ideas to help foster the growing love in a stepfamily:
- Biological parent/children continue to have some time together to keep the bio bond very strong (this helps the children have more capacity to let the new stepparent/children into their hearts). Often new stepfamily parents believe that they should all be together all the time; the truth is that when kids feel securely connected to their bio parent that gives him/her more capacity to be open to the new stepparent and/or kids. The bio “love tank” must be full for them to even consider letting the new people in.
- Always give kids the full permission to love and miss and talk about their other bio parent, whether through death or divorce or never married; kids need the permission to have an open and loving relationship with both their bio parents and to celebrate them, talk about them and to uphold their place in their heart without feeling like they are going to upset their other bio parent and the new step parent.
- Cooperative co-parenting after divorce will help kids adjust and transition. When bio parents can work together as a co-parent team, even though no longer together as a couple, the children have the opportunity to fully thrive!
- Let kids lead the way on how much affection they show the new step parent. Allowing them to move at their own pace will help in the long run. First things first, build trust and try to find common interests and activities to enjoy together. Also, the new step parent who authentically supports the child’s other parent will fare much better than to try and bad mouth or down play the child’s other bio parent. Kids are deeply connected to their biological parent and they never want to feel as if they have to pick favorites. Verbally acknowledge and affirm the child’s other bio parent in a way they know you are being specific and being kind.
- With time, trust can be built, new memories can be made and LOVE can grow into a unique and beautiful relationship with step family members. Patience and grace plus time and trust can result in a powerful LOVE within a stepfamily story!
A companion in the stepfamily journey,
Tammy Daughtry has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, is an author and works with couples and kids at www.ModernFamilyDynamics.com in Nashville.