The four mantras are 4 ways to keep in mind. They help you think slightly differently. They help you get over the barriers often put up in step-families.
The differences between biological families and step-families are difficult to see from the outside. Families can look the same. Being inside a step-family can feel very different. Step-family members can feel difficult emotions very acutely. Family members can fell resentful towards change, sad that things have had to change, angry that things have not stayed the same, cross with the everyday changes, annoyed at the frustrations – the list can go on. All these emotions come out one way or another. Often step-family members difficult feelings are projected onto the new-comer – the step-parent.
Many step-parents are shocked at how difficult it can be inside a blended family. When they first meet a new partner, things can seem lovely. The family are nice, they get on with the children. They can see no problems ahead. It can therefore come as a surprise when things don’t continue to go as planned. This happens when the step-parent moves from being, ‘a friend’ to being a step-parent with influence with their parent. The child can perceive that your views suddenly matter and you have influence. Resistance from the child to change can become overt.
Be StepWise have developed the four mantras of step-parenting. They are the four things you that can be helpful to remember in a step-family that you don’t have to think about in the same way when you are a traditional family.
So what ways are there to keep in mind to do things differently?
‘Think with the end in mind’
Good days are good days, but bad days can be very, very bad! It can be very frustrating living with other people’s children. It costs you money, uses your time, takes your partner away from you and your family, and step-children and young people are annoying. More than just annoying sometimes. It takes all you’ve got to give, and why? It’s hard enough when they are your own.
However. Do everything with the end in mind.
Make every decision with the thought that when the children are adults you want to have a good relationship with them and enjoy their lives. Enjoy the grand-children, be able to have fun family gatherings, etc.
- So, when things go wrong and your plans for a day are completely messed up because a step-child is ill and you can’t go somewhere. Think with the end in mind.
- ‘Choose your battles’, – think with the end in mind.
Step-parenting is a long-term commitment. There will be some good times now. But you are doing it for the future.
It takes a long time, usually about 10 years, before you bond as a family.
If you expect appreciation for being a step-parent you rarely get it. The rewards come later. When they are much older.
Reward yourself now with taking time out when possible and enjoying the good times when you can.
Thinking with the end in mind keeps you focused on the end goal. Child rearing is a log term commitment.
‘Let the system carry the load’
For every problem in a blended family introduce a system to solve the problem
Traditional families they have systems too, but you just don’t realise it, as the systems evolved as the family grew.
If everyone knows what is expected of them, then they are much more likely to conform. People like to feel they are doing what is wanted and they like praise, (even adults)
Introduce systems so there are no surprises and people know what’s expected.
- Communication is a system that happens naturally in traditional families. In blended family’s communication needs to be set up. So, put in a system. Included, communicated to, involved people share better, trust better, understand each other better, work better together. Set ups a meeting (call it anything you like), at the beginning of every school holiday? Meetings with the ex-partners involved annually or bi-annually? Or as and when necessary. In communication make sure people are heard and listened to, not just spoken at. This is how people feel they belong.
- Make sure everyone is included in the communication system, including children who you may only see occasionally. Communication makes everyone feel involved.
- Setting boundaries is a system. If the hall is a mess, and you want it cleared, or if bedrooms are untidy. Step-back, husband and wife agree what should happen when calm, and then set it up so everyone knows with a small reward for getting it right and a small consequence for when it doesn’t happen. That way everyone can contribute to making it work.
- In step-families we have to think about how things will work and implement them, because there is more to organise, (timing, getting places)
e.g “you said we’d play football this afternoon and now there is no time!” – and children of different ages and stages, so one activity may not be suitable for all things need to be agreed in advance, and it helps if everyone knows what’s happening.
There is a lot of comfort in schedules, (knowing when something is going to happen), e.g the school routines can feel very safe, and it is worth replicating some of these safe feelings at home too.
- The system of allowing children time alone (doesn’t have to be much) with their bio- parent regularly stops the build-upof resentment as children know they will have some time alone with Mum or Dad to discuss something that may be bothering them.
Having a system means that you don’t have to be the one demanding what others people must do. You can set up what should happen, and then praise when it happens and have consequences in place when it doesn’t.
‘Work in anticipation’
When things don’t go right, plan for next time, so you can praise, not criticise what has gone before.
For example, in discipline, when you disagree with something your step-child is doing it is best to always work in anticipation, not in retrospect. So, refrain from ‘telling off’. Instead let it go this time. Plan for it never to happen again that way in the future. If the child has done it once they are likely to do it again.
Plan by working with your partner first, to agree what the expectations are for a particular thing. It is important you and they agree on this. If you don’t the step-child can split you. If your partner and you cannot agree, then realise that this particular issue is a problem between you and your partner and not you and the step-child. If this is a problem, step away and get the bio-parents deal with the problem behaviour and take the wrap. If you and the bio-parents agree on what expectations should be. Introduce a house rule.
Make sure everyone in the house understands what is expected (communicating this well is important), and plan rewards and consequences.
This way, when a house rule is broken your partner will back you up and there is a consequence in place that is known beforehand.
When the incident happens again, hopefully expectations will be known, and behaviour will be different, then rewards and praise makes everyone feel good.
This way the household can operate in a calm way, with mainly praise for meeting agreed expectations.
Judgements and criticism are the two killers of blended families, as they destroy relationships. Punishments and shouting matches are rarely ever forgotten. A step-child relationship can always be broken, you are connected more securely to a child of your own.
The Serenity prayer. “God grant me the serenityto accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”
In a traditional family everyone can be as one. In a blended family there needs to be much more tolerance of difference.
Sometimes, it can help to see yourselves as two or more families under one roof.
Families come from different cultures. Every family forms a different way of doing things even if they live next door to one another. Every family has their individual traits.
Do what you can to get agreement, understand that you can’t make it completely right, and know there is only so much you can do, like the step-family who buy three Christmas trees each year – a traditional one for each family from the past and one for making the new traditions for the family going forward.
Relations with the ex-partners can be very troublesome. However, there is only so much you can do. The main relationship with your partner’s ex, is with your partner and his ex. If you get in the way you are likely to be blamed. Support your partner. Help your partner with boundaries, set up communication systems, work with co-parenting agreements, use parallel parenting, but at the end of the day you can only influence others not insist. Change what you can and accept what you can’t.
If the children are being influenced negatively elsewhere, you have to work with what you can do.
If there are in-balances between children. You can’t bring them all together and treat them all the same. Some may be being parented differently elsewhere. What is applicable to one set of children can be different for another.
Being a step-parent is a great educator. As it teaches you that you cannot control everything. You need to work with what is. Step-families are more advantaged in some ways. For example, children need good enough parenting, not perfect parenting. To a degree, sibling differences can help a child be more resilient and resourceful, improve awareness and understanding of life’s choices. They can learn to tackle some of the challenges they will meet in life in the home environment. Over-protecting them is not always the best. The serenity prayer and step-parenting can teach us this.
Therefore, nurture yourself. Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel right enough to be okay to carry on being in this family. You may need to go out, have other interests, have friends outside. Know what it takes to make you feel ok and do it for yourself.