This was first published on KSL.COM
I absolutely love your KSL articles. They are so real, helpful and interesting. I am married to an amazing man who is divorced, and I was widowed. We are very happy together. We each have three children. They are all married, some with children of their own. We get together probably once a month, but here's where I need help.
My husband gets lots of love, attention and affection from my kids, whose dad passed away when they were young. We were alone for 12 years, so my husband is a godsend in many ways. However, I feel poorly treated, unappreciated and mostly would rather not spend time with his kids. They ignore me, treat me like a second-class citizen, and at the end of the activity I get a hug and a very fake "love you" (at least it feels fake to me).
I feel like I try so hard but still feel rejected every time we are together. Even after all these years as their stepparent, they don't really know me or like me. I would love some insights on this subject and how to shift this so I can feel better. Can you help?
Blending families is complicated business because there are complex emotions in play for all involved. If you understand these dynamics, it can help you to take things less personally and have more compassion for each member of the family. I can't possibly explain every possible dynamic for every parent, stepparent and stepchild in this one article, but see if you can identify the dynamics in play with your blended family.
Here are a few common blended family dynamics.
Dynamics of stepchildren
Stepchildren dynamic 1
Some stepchildren view their stepparent as a wonderful person who is making their family whole again. When they lost their natural parent (to divorce or death), they were left with a gaping hole in their lives, which the stepparent has stepped in to fill. The stepparent won't ever really replace the loss, but he or she has made it less painful. Stepchildren who are experiencing this dynamic are easy to bond with and they make the stepparent feel safe and accepted.
Stepchildren dynamic 2
Some stepchildren see their stepparent as the symbol of all they have lost. The stepparent literally represents all the pain that has come from having their family ripped apart. Every time they see the stepparent, they are reminded that their family isn't whole and the way it "should be." The stepparent represents all that is wrong with their world. These stepchildren struggle to see their stepparent as a person with feelings. They feel resentful toward him or her, as he or she is standing where their real parent should be. They try to accept and appreciate the stepparent, but their subconscious mind is always screaming that he or she shouldn't be there.
It is important that you not take this personally. It really isn't about you at all; it is about the child's feelings of pain and loss. It isn't that they don't like you as a person, and you are right: they probably don't even know you, and that doesn't feel fair. Many of the dynamics in stepfamilies aren't fair, but they are what they are. These are real people processing painful emotions. The bad news is it can take them decades to work through these feelings and they have the right to be experiencing them for as long as it takes.
If your stepchildren are this dynamic, it's best to allow them to be here. You can choose to honor and respect their right to be triggered and experience pain and loss around you being in their lives. It's OK for them to feel that way. They lost the family they wanted. It's just what it is.
The more you resist this dynamic, wish it wasn't here, and push the children toward accepting and loving you, the more they will resist doing so. The best thing you can do is allow them to be where they are. Decide to treat them with love and respect anyway, and do it for you and your spouse — not because you are getting anything back.
If you consistently show up with love and compassion, allowing your stepchildren to be wherever they are, they will soften over time as their pain dissipates. But the older they were when you joined the family, the longer it takes to get here. Be patient and trust that the way things are is creating a perfect classroom experience for all involved.
Stepchildren dynamic 3
Some stepchildren are in such acute pain over the divorce, it causes them to act out, lash out and misbehave, even trying to destroy the relationship between their parent and new stepparent. They often get encouragement to do this from the other natural parent who is also vengeful about the new marriage. These kids are in a horrible position because if they like the stepparent at all, they are betraying their natural parent. They are forced to hate the stepparent, and all these emotions of unfairness, betrayal, conflict and confusion can create difficult situations for all involved.
These kids also deserve compassion and understanding for the difficult situation they are in. If you are the stepparent here, you have to get really thick skin and understand, again, this isn't about you. All the advice above applies here, but you may have to accept that they will never accept you and that's OK, too. You must know that your value isn't tied to what they think of you.
As long as your marriage is good, you can weather the storm and raise these kids, even with them not liking you for much of the time. Let go of your expectations and allow this situation to be what it is. This will make it less painful for you.
Dynamics of stepparents
Stepparent dynamic 1
Some stepparents are impatient in wanting their new family to look and feel like heaven on earth. They expect everyone involved to see how great this new family is and be excited about it. When this doesn't happen, they are disappointed and frustrated. They even feel mistreated, which means they can start resenting the family members who are resisting this union.
These stepparents can behave immaturely, get dramatic, emotional or upset whenever they aren't treated the way they think they should be. This makes it harder and harder for the natural parent, who feels stuck between wanting to support their children and their new spouse but can't do both and is often forced to choose, which never goes well. Most of these relationships don't make it.
Stepparent dynamic 2
Some stepparents understand that blending families takes time and patience. Everyone involved is processing a deep sense of loss and mourning the family they wanted to have. This means complex emotions are in play that require more understanding, allowance, compassion and maturity. These stepparents know it takes years, if not decades for some members of the family to work through their feelings of loss and accept this new situation.
This means the stepparent must have thick skin, not take mistreatment personally, and be extra patient and understanding when they are treated unfairly. This is not easy to do, but they keep trying. They know they must allow each member of the family to be where they are and not push or rush them.
These stepparents work hard to show up with kindness, respect, love and patience at every family gathering — no matter what they are getting back — and constantly remind themselves that their value isn't tied to being accepted. They are safe and fine even if their stepchildren can't love them yet. Of course, they can't maintain this perfectly all the time, but they keep reminding themselves that their sense of safety comes from knowing their value can't change and this family dynamic is providing perfect lessons for all involved. You can be this kind of stepparent by just deciding to be and working at it.
There are many wonderful books on stepparenting and blended families, and I honestly recommend you read them all. The divorce rate for second families is 66%, and 75% for third, according to The Stepfamily Foundation. So, the odds are basically against you. I only mention this to motivate you toward reading and learning every skill and tool you can for making it work.
I have found couples who are committed to this work, read books together, get outside help and keep learning and growing can thrive and create blended families that thrive. You can do this.
This article was first published on KSL.COM
After reading all the comments from the previous articles in this stepfamily series, I think I need to give you the one biggest secrets to making a stepfamily — or any family — happier and more successful. More than any other quality, you need to be MATURE, and I will explain what I mean.
Mature people are able to recognize when they might be wrong, unbalanced, fear-triggered, or selfish, and they can actually own that, apologize and admit when they need help. Mature people are also more emotionally intelligent grown-ups who are aware of their triggers, faults and weaknesses and don’t get offended over small things.
I realize this is a tall order, though, and we are all (including me) still working on being truly mature. I realize it’s a hard-fought battle against our egos, fears, insecurities and scarcity. I know it’s going to be a lifelong project to grow ourselves up and become mature. But if we can at least see the goal and understand what mature looks like, then we are on the right track and that will make all the difference.
It’s not so much about being perfectly mature (because we know that won’t happen) as much as striving in that direction and working on it.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you fight the battle to be more mature:
Choose your battles (and don’t wage war over small things)
Every time something bugs you, ask yourself: Will I think this was a big deal and worthy of causing contention five years from now? If the answer is no, tell yourself this is not a hill worth dying on and go do something to take care of yourself instead. When we act maturely, we are flexible, easy-going and demonstrate we have thick skin. Many family conflicts start over small issues and continue showing up because members of the family are processing hurt, stress and fear. This means most of the time it’s not about you, and it will pass if you let it go.
Work to understand other people’s fear states
Functioning in a fear-of-loss state, which stepfamilies usually are, means everyone will be offended more easily. In a stepfamily, fear of loss is prevalent and everyone subconsciously thinks they have to protect themselves from every other member of the family. Their defensiveness is not about you, though. If they get upset at you, remember they are afraid of more loss and it isn’t personal. Reassure them that you care about them and don’t want to take from them or hurt them. Stay in a calm, balanced place knowing these bumps are part of the process to re-establish trust, and this process takes time and patience.
Understand everyone is needy for validation and reassurance in a blended family
Kids often act out as a result of the fear and pain they are processing. When this happens, instead of being angry at them, validate the good kid you know they are inside. Show compassion for the complex emotions they are probably feeling and the way pain makes everyone behave worse. When you show understanding, they will lean in instead of away from you, which will give you more influence.
Plan on taking the punishment from people who were hurt before you were even involved
This happens with anyone who has had any past life. They usually have trust issues and fears that you will inadvertently trigger, even though they aren’t about you. Did I mention mature people have to have thick skin? They do, and this will be critical when blending. I am not saying you should allow others to mistreat you though. Just handle the conversation about the mistreatment with understanding and patience. Show your love is bigger than your fear of being mistreated.
Never make children feel responsible for making sure you are OK
Children are especially fragile every time they have to move from one house to the other. Each time they come and go, they experience the pain of the divorce all over again. They feel guilty for leaving whoever they are leaving, and you must make sure they know you are fine.
Never make them feel guilty for wanting to spend time with their other parent. That is one of the most damaging things you can do to them. Don’t look forlorn and sad when they leave, because that makes this even harder on them. Be the grown-up who is responsible for his or her own happiness and show kids his or her strength and resilience. This will build relationships of respect and trust with them.
Get professional help if you are struggling
Getting professional help as an adult teaches children that it’s OK to ask for help and OK to not be perfect. It is a sign of strength (not weakness) to acknowledge you need outside help. Strong, mature people know that a little help can make everything easier.
Your No. 1 job is managing your emotions, issues and fears. If you can tell you don’t know how to manage those and you are letting ego, pride, fear or anger show up in your relationships, own that. Get help immediately.
Always be improving your emotional intelligence
Emotionally intelligent people know they can always do better. Read books, go to seminars, get therapy or coaching, listen to podcasts or Audible. There are so many ways to access great personal development help these days. Be someone who is always improving yourself, and your relationships will be rich and stable.
Be the first one to admit your mistakes and apologize
The more you do this, the healthier your family dynamic will be. Things unravel when your ego tries to act perfect and cast others as the bad ones. The truth is, we all have the same value and our mistakes don’t change that. We are all struggling students in the classroom of life, doing the best we can with what we know, but we need to learn more. Owning the fact that you are still learning, but want to do better, and actually getting help to change yourself, shows your family you really love them.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.COM
I had the honor of being the emcee for the Smart Stepfamily Conference two weeks ago in Lehi. Throughout the conference I kept thinking: There are some things that every single parent who is even thinking of dating and getting married again should know — things they could learn now that would save them pain, stress and turmoil later.
This article is for you dating, single parents.
Having said that, I highly recommend that this article not be the only resource you go to when thinking about a second marriage. The family dynamics in a blended family are very complex with land mines popping up daily, and knowing how to handle these up front can help you have a successful second marriage.
Here are my "must-know tips" for single parents in a relationship:
1. A stepfamily does not work like a biological family
Just because you were successful in your biological family does not mean you have the skills to blend two households. The dynamics in a stepfamily are much more complex, with a lot of fear and emotion involved. If you go into it unprepared, the challenges might be too much for you. You will absolutely need to get help, counseling or coaching, seminars, and books on blending families if you want to be successful. Getting help decreases the likelihood of divorce more than anything else you could do.
2. You must work on you first
It is going to take a lot of maturity, emotional intelligence and patience to build a relationship with each member of the new family. So, if you have wounds from previous relationships, childhood issues, or fear triggers, you need to work on them before you bring kids into the mix. The kids will inevitably push your buttons. If you behave immaturely when this happens, they will lose respect for you and the whole thing will get much harder. Making sure you are in control of your reactions is your No. 1 job in this new relationship.
3. Parenting problems come after marriage
Even if your partner’s kids like you right now while you are dating, they will have issues with you and/or not like you (at times) once you are married. I promise this will happen. If you are prepared for it, you won’t overreact or get offended and can just ride it out. Caring relationships will develop, but much slower than you think they should. So, it is going to take patience.
4. Fear often breeds bad behavior
Everyone behaves badly in fear of the unknown, and there is no bigger unknown for a child than changing up a person’s home and family. Their very foundation is shaken when the family changes. You must go into this situation carefully, always honoring how distressing the changes may be in the child’s life.
5. Ask your child how or she feels
Talk to children constantly and ask how they feel about each step of the relationship as it develops. They can’t control whether you move forward, marry someone or not, but they should be heard, validated and honored for their feelings about it. They need to know they are important too.
6. Be OK with being left out
Children need activities and time alone with their biological parent — without you. You will need to be OK with being left out on occasion because honoring the child’s needs is the most important thing when first blending. They are scared to death of losing their other parent (they already lost one in the divorce, who no longer lives with them). Make sure they are getting lots of attention from their parent to quiet this fear of loss, and they will be more open and accepting of you.
7. Children won’t always appreciate your efforts
Your role as a stepparent will sometimes feel like that of a babysitter or a substitute teacher (and you know how well they are treated). You will sacrifice and do things for your partner’s children, and sometimes they won’t be grateful. As a matter of fact, they might resent you for it because you are doing what their natural parent is supposed to be doing, and that hurts. If you can stay peaceful, flexible and trusting through the bad days when they push you away, you will get closer and closer over time. Just don’t rush blending; it takes a long time to build these step relationships.
8. Stepfamilies are built on loss and pain
A stepfamily is built on the loss and pain each person has experienced before now. The loss and pain can keep family members in a fear of loss or failure state — where their worst behavior will show up. They need you to understand that any bad behavior is an expression of that pain. They need your compassion while you also enforce rules. If compassion isn’t a precursor to discipline, damage will be done that is hard to repair.
9. Never speak negatively about your ex
You must never speak a negative word about your ex or your partner's ex. You must understand that children are made of half you and half your ex. When you badmouth your ex, you are insulting that part of your child too. You must allow them the space to love their other parent or you will do irreparable damage to your kids and their self-esteem. Work on seeing everyone as having the same value and avoid gossip and negativity.
Ron Deal, a leading expert on stepfamilies, shares the following African proverb: “When two elephants fight, the grass pays for it.” The children are the grass. Great care must be taken to make the children feel safe and unconditionally loved by both parents.
10. Blending forces change in family roles
When two families blend, all the traditional family roles are thrown out of whack. There is a new birth order as new children are added and others displaced. There is a new adult taking the place of the parent (or the oldest child, who might have filled that space since the divorce). Pay attention to how the family dynamic is changing and where reassurance and patience might be needed as everyone adjusts.
11. The 'You’re not my parent' card will be played
When things get stressful and feelings of loss and fear are triggered, your stepchildren will pull the "You’re not my parent" card. Don’t even attempt to replace their parent. Take the role of a caring family friend. Let the child determine the pace of the relationship and follow their lead. If you refrain from pushing and let them come to you, bonding will happen.
I hope this article doesn’t discourage you because you can build a successful, happy stepfamily that works, if you understand the factors in play and are prepared for them. Here are some great books to consider if you are preparing for a blended family:
This was first published on KSL.COM
I am a stepfather and I can relate with a lot of things in your article for stepmothers, but I wish you had addressed the challenges for both partners. I am finding being a stepfather very complicated. What advice do you have for stepfathers?
You are correct. The role of stepfather is just as complex that of stepmother. Jeannette Lofas, a stepparenting expert and author, says stepfathers face the following challenges:
These are just a few of the common complaints and challenges. But with some education, time and patience, you can create healthy relationships with everyone in your blended family.
Here are some tips and ideas to make your role as stepfather easier:
You will have to be a patient, understanding, mature adult who understands the complex feelings a child of divorce has to process. If you have trouble with being triggered and angry, frustrated, or passive-aggressive, it is your responsibility to get some professional help and work on these triggers. Do this at the first sign of trouble or frustration.
Many stepfathers let the resentment build for years before seeking help or advice, and often the damage is too deep by then. Remember, it's a sign of strength to admit you need help, not a sign of weakness. Strong men can admit they need some outside help and some new skills and tools.
You can do this.
This was first published on KSL.com
The most complex role in every blended family is the role of stepmother. The very word "stepmother" is preloaded with negative connotations. I’d like to have a talk with the person at Disney, who has cast all stepmothers as evil, cruel and unloving. I believe they have made it hard for even the best-intentioned person to rise above that stereotype.
This role is not an easy one either; Jeannette Lofas, a stepparenting expert and author of the book “Step Parenting” explains why it is more complex than being a biological mother. Stepmothers have to battle many of the following challenges:
These are just a few of the common complaints and challenges, but there are many more. Feelings of failure, rejection and never being good enough, feeling mistreated, taken for granted, walked on or resented are common. But with some education, time and patience, you can create beautiful relationships with everyone in your family.
Here are some tips and ideas to make your role as step-mother easier:
Be a strong, resilient, mature adult who understands the complex feelings a child will have toward a stepparent. Rise above it all and trust in your value and this journey. It takes years for a stepfamily to fully jell, but the less reactive you can be the better.
If you have trouble with being triggered and creating drama when you feel rejected, insecure, or mistreated, it is your responsibility to get some professional help and work on your triggers. Do this at the first sign of trouble, and 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.