When you come on board with the family as a step-parent you wonder what the child might have gone through before, whether it be death or divorce. Here is some evidence that may feed your understanding.
A poll was conducted by Elizabeth Marquardt and Norvel D Glenn at the Institute of American Values in 2005. Adults, aged eighteen to thirty five, who had experienced their parents ‘good’ divorces where asked what effect it had had on them. There was a consensus that even though as children they had amicable divorced parents, they still felt less protected, less at home with each parent, and less likely to go to their parents for comfort. They also felt they had to play different parts with each parent, keep secrets, be more adult, take sides and meet higher expectations in order to gain their parents’ approval.
What kind of a divorce or death experience have your step-children had? What are the consequences? Lots of factors can come into play. How resilient are they, how able to cope, have they been able to use the experience as a useful life lesson, or have they been swamped by what happened? Have they taken up coping strategies that will not serve them well in the end – Smoking, drink, or drugs for example? How are their anxiety levels? Everything is by degree. Some children will survive better than others. As a step-parent you may have your work cut out, but as a step-parent you have an extremely valuable role to play in the young person’s life, helping them navigate the disruption of divorce and bereavement. You can be an adult they can trust and who can help, provided you see through the presenting behaviour.
A longitudinal study by E.M. Hetherington and J. Kelly interviewed more than a hundred children of divorced families in 1980, and found that the questions upper-most in a child’s mind when divorce is announced are – Who will take care of me? Where will I live, go to school? Where will we get money? Where are my parents going to live? Will the other parent leave, too?
When you arrive has there been more change? How have they coped with the answers to this question? It may say a lot for the value of stability, with routines, rules, guidelines, and feedback. Keep things steady and surprises to the minimum, involve them, keep things stable. Enable them to keep established friends. Oh, and by the way – how did you tell your step-children you were moving in / getting married/ moving house? – was it a surprise?