This was first published on KSL.com
I have received numerous questions lately that involve stepfamilies or blended families, and I understand why. All family relationships can be hard, but these families face many more challenges than a biological family. Additionally, people who haven’t been in a blended family before are often unprepared to handle them.
Many couples marry thinking their love will be enough to make the family work, but they soon find out that’s not true. To create a successful blended family you will need to learn about the challenges and gain some new skills.
I share the following statistics from Pew Research and the Stepfamily Foundation not to discourage you, but to motivate you to get some help, education, skills and tools so your blended family can beat these odds.
Fortunately, that last statistic is changing, as there are more resources today than ever before. I highly recommend that couples who are in a blended family or are thinking about getting married, find a coach or counselor who is familiar with the challenges. You should also find every book, conference or seminar you can on the topic and read them together. These steps can considerably up your chances of making it. Knowledge and awareness of the challenges make all the difference.
Tips for blended families
Jeannette Lofas, an author and stepfamily expert, says the No. 1 factor in the success or failure of a blended family comes down to getting outside education, help and resources to deal with the inevitable challenges. Here are some important facts about blended families, from her book “Step Parenting,” which I highly recommend.
1. A blended family is very different from a biological family.
The issues that arise in a blended family will be some you haven’t ever had to deal with before. In a birth family, there are natural roles everyone falls into; but in a blended family, these roles can look very different.
No stepmother can fully replace the child’s actual mother (even if she is deceased). The stepmother role is a unique one that most people have never had before. The rules are completely different, and the same goes for the father, mother, stepfather, and even the oldest child, who now might not be the oldest anymore.
It takes time for everyone to understand and master their new roles. This cannot happen overnight and the road will be bumpy. All parties must be patient, easy-going, and slow to get offended or defensive. Everyone has to give everyone else some slack to learn and get comfortable with their new roles.
2. Love is not required, but respect is.
You cannot force your child to love a stepparent, but you will need a firm rule about respect, consideration and kindness. These are required from all parties all the time, even from the adults toward the children.
Everyone has the right to be honored, respected, heard and thanked for what they do. If a child or adult is struggling with giving respect, that is a sign that a conversation needs to happen where they can express their frustrations, pain or fears around the situation. As the adult, you must be able to listen to the child’s feelings and honor their right to have them, even if they are attacks at some level.
Everyone has the right to their feelings, but being disrespectful is not an option. If the adults are behaving emotionally or defensively, they need to seek some professional help with processing their own fears and feelings so they will be able to show up mature and stable and earn the family’s respect.
3. Your individual emotional intelligence is vitality important.
If you struggle with strong emotions, losing your temper, feeling mistreated or offended, you may want to seek some professional help to work on your triggers. Do not wait to see if things improve. Get professional help at the first sign of trouble. Every expert I talk to says this is the No. 1 thing they recommend. It is so much easier to fix relationships and families at the onset than to wait until things get really bad.
4. Blame the stepfamily situation, not the people involved.
Lofas says "One of the greatest mistakes is blaming yourself for the feelings and difficulties of the stepfamily situation. Such blame only makes you feel helpless, and it often keeps you from taking steps to deal with the problems."
It is not easy for anyone to be a stepparent. It is not easy for any child to have a stepparent. The entire experience is complicated and, at some level, can be scary or threatening. Everyone needs someone to talk to and resources to help them sort through the emotions involved.
5. Remember that transfer moments can be painful.
Every time children go from one home to the other (these transfer moments), all the pain around the divorce is brought to the surface again. Expect children to struggle and have emotions that can lead to behavior issues at these times. Overlook most of this and give them some room to feel bothered and even act out to some degree, because this type of behavior is natural as they process loss.
6. Everyone will have feelings of guilt.
Parents feel guilty for breaking up the family and loving someone their kids don’t like. Stepparents feel guilty that they can’t feel loving feelings toward these children that don’t belong to them. Children feel guilty for liking the stepparent or for disappointing the parent they aren’t with.
All this guilt leads to feelings of failure, which creates all kinds of bad behavior. A trained professional can help you process the guilt and, again, blame it on the situation, not on yourself.
7. Stepcouples should set rules together — alone.
Stepcouples must spend a great deal of time having validating conversations about rules, consequences, boundaries and who will do the disciplining and how. Do not have these conversations in front of the children. These things need to be worked out in private and then facilitated the right way (usually, this means having the biological parent do the discipline when possible).
Everyone must have a voice and feel heard and validated about their feelings. Even if you disagree, it will go over better if the other party at least feels heard. If you don’t have the skills to have these conversations in a validating and productive way, seek some professional help to learn how.
These are just a few tips and tricks to shine the light on some of the challenges stepfamilies face. In upcoming LifeAdvice articles, I am going to share advice and tips for fathers, mothers and stepparents in their unique roles. There is also a conference on blended families coming to Utah on Jan. 21 that I highly recommend you attend if you have, or are considering having, a blended family.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
For the last eight years, I have given you a new year’s resolution that, in my opinion, would make the greatest positive impact on your life in the upcoming year. (You can read the past 8 years articles here.)
This year being 2020, and the beginning of a new decade, I think it’s a great time for starting fresh and making a change. The goal I recommend you consider this year is to get some professional help to take stock of your subconscious beliefs and learn how to change the beliefs that aren’t serving you.
This will require professional help because it is difficult to see your subconscious patterns and change them on your own. I highly recommend you find a counselor or coach who is trained to do this kind of work. The truth is, you cannot work on yourself alone at the same level you can with someone to help you. It is much easier to see the negative patterns in other people’s behavior than it is to see your own.
A caring, well-trained coach or counselor can give you new tools and skills that will make you more emotionally intelligent and balanced. He or she can help you understand how your programs of fear are driving your behavior and help you change them on a subconscious level.
Trust me: A coach or counselor who can guide you through this process will help you become stronger, wiser and more loving than you ever thought you could be. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself and those you love this year.
To get you started, here is a list of the most common and damaging beliefs that might be causing havoc in your life:
Remember, these are not facts; they are just beliefs. That means you can change them anytime you want to. Sit with each of them a minute and make a note of the beliefs you might have in play.
These beliefs become the lens through which we see ourselves and our world. They filter all our experiences and determine how we feel about ourselves and life. They also drive our behavior — especially negative, unbalanced behavior. These beliefs stop us from being the person we want to be.
Changing your beliefs
Most of these beliefs play out on a subconscious level, though, so you may not be aware of how much they drive your life. But you can become aware, and that is the first step to changing them.
Here is an exercise to help you change some beliefs:
Fears that you aren’t good enough or aren’t safe are the most common beliefs behind bad behavior. Agin, find a professional who can specifically help you change those two beliefs. If you can start feeling safer in the world and better about yourself, it will be a gamechanger that will shift all your relationships for the better.
When you feel safe, you have a full bucket and something to give the people in your life. When you feel unsafe, your entire focus will be on you and finding safety, and you won’t have anything to give.
If your relationships are struggling, your self-esteem is low, you are going through some big life changes, or you are feeling depressed or anxious, care about yourself enough to get some help. Don't spend another day stuck here. There are answers to your questions and changes you can make that will quickly change how you feel and behave. Don't wait and live in fear any longer.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.