Terry slouched on my therapy couch and mumbled, “My mom has a new husband. She wants me to be nice to him but I don’t feel like being nice. I’m sick and tired of not seeing my dad. I don’t like this strange guy walking around my house and telling me he’s my friend. He’s not my friend. He’s a stranger. I want my dad back.”
The challenge of living with a stepparent requires time and patience from all family members. Suddenly there is a stranger sharing the bathroom, giving directions and checking your homework. Mom or dad is no longer exclusively yours. One parent’s daily presence is lost. Holidays become complicated. And what do you call this new person who shows up at the breakfast table with habits that annoy you?
From the child’s point of view, his/her family has been torn apart and replaced with another. This loss and new arrangement were not by choice. Feelings of anger linger long after the parents’ divorce is final. If the child hasn’t openly worked through anger and unforgiveness towards the original parents, these feelings carry over to the blended family as well.
In the best of situations, stepchildren struggle to find ways to honor stepparents without dishonoring biological parents. They experience a constant division of loyalties that evidences in even the smallest of issues. It is this division of loyalties that resurfaces throughout the new marriage and serves as an unpleasant reminder of the price children pay for divorce.
So what can parents do to help children adjust to newly formed families?
First, they must ask God for wisdom to discern the needs of their children. The remarried couple is delighted to put their former marriages behind them and is hopeful about the future. Children of divorce are not in the same place. Often their feelings of rejection intensify when strangers enter the family. Remarried adults must constantly ask, “What are the needs of the children?”
Second, blended families should not pretend to be a replacement family for children. The reality is that children lose a parent and parents gain a new partner. You must continually talk about this fact. Encourage emotional expression. Reassure the children that no matter what they feel, you can handle it and will deal with it.
Third, be patient. While stepchildren need to be helped through the transition of blending a family, don’t force closeness. It takes time for a child to get to know a new adult and feel comfortable having him or her in the house. It is normal for a child to want the original family back so he/she doesn’t have to divide loyalties, visitation and important dates.
Fourth, be careful to give children privacy when it comes to their physical bodies. As stepparents, you did not change their diapers, tuck them into bed every night and you are not biologically related. Therefore you must be extra sensitive to appropriate physical boundaries.
Finally, keep God the center of family life. He is your constant source of strength and healing. Be a family who prays and commits to working through even the toughest emotions and disappointments.
A few years ago, Connecticut’s Attorney General and US Senate candidate, Richard Blumenthal, was caught lying about his service in Viet Nam. According to reports, this wasn’t the first time he misspoke and allowed the myth of his wartime service to be spread unchecked. Once caught, Blumenthal back peddled, never labeled what he did a lie and became defensive with media. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine commented that Blumenthal’s actions were wrong, but shouldn’t hurt his run for office (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/23/tim-kaine-blumenthal-wron_n_586369.html).
How sad that grown men do not see lying as a problem of trust? How disturbing is it that telling lies should not impact a person’s run for political office? What kind of message do we send others about telling the truth? Isn’t lying one of the reasons Americans have lost trust in public officials? When we witness people saying whatever is necessary in order to get elected or pass their agendas, trust is lost. And trust is fundamental to any relationship.
On the one hand we teach our children that telling the truth is always the best option. In our family, if you told the truth, the consequence was less than if you lied. But what our children and teens witness through media is just the opposite -tell the truth only when it works for you. If you can get away with a lie, it is no big deal. If the end justifies the mean, than maybe lying is necessary. Yet, honesty is the foundation of building trust.
If you’ve been on the other side of a lie, you know how hurtful it is and how damaging the consequences can be. Trust is eroded, making relationships difficult. If you were caught in a lie, would you admit it, think it was no big deal, hope you got away with it or be repentant and try to quickly repair the damage?
Is it ever OK to lie? Given what our kids see in media, this is a discussion to have often, prompted by what they see in media and sports. What does God’s word say about lying? How important are relationships built on truth? We all make mistakes, but admitting to them is what brings repentance.
In your family, talk about how trust is built in relationships and how lying hurts people in the long run. It is tempting to lie, easy to do and often accepted or overlooked. But ultimately lies come back to us and hurt those involved.
Do you feel lying is more acceptable today and without consequences?
Take this as a good sign. It might mean she is still invested in the marriage and not ready to walk away.
Maybe you’ve heard about the Walk-away Wife Syndrome. It’s a phrase that has been coined to describe women who will file for divorce . Of the one million who file, two-thirds to three quarters are women ready to walk away from unhappy marriages.
By the time a woman says, “I’m done,” in a marriage, the discontent has built over the years. Women begin most marriages attending to the relationship and push for change. They want intimacy out of their partners and when intimacy is lacking, women usually bring it up and begin to complain. Complaints signal unrest and men need to pay attention to this. Unfortunately, too many men distance when complaining begins. They are uncomfortable with the conflict. Eventually, the wife gives up and resigns herself to the idea that her man will never change. The man takes this lack of complaint as a sign that things are better. But they are not. When the wife announces she is walking away from the marriage, the man is stunned. He thinks, “How did this happen?”
So if you are at this point in your marriage and want to walk away because your spouse has been clueless and unresponsive, I would encourage you to try one more time. Sometimes, men are a little slow at catching on to these relationship patterns. Your desire to walk away may be the wake up call to tell him, “Yes, things are really that bad and need to be changed.”
When couples agree to try again, I have seen amazing results. They improve the marriage and avoid the pain and agony of divorce. It can be done.
Find a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who can help you made necessary changes. When both people wake up to the reality that change is needed, the marriage can really improve.
For more couple help, I Married You, Not Your Family
Terrance, age 40, has quit multiple jobs because of boredom. At home, he has several projects going at once, has trouble concentrating and rarely finishes one thing before moving on to the next. His wife is frustrated because she knows he is smart, but seems to have trouble concentrating. Recently, Terrance was diagnosed with adult ADHD. Once the diagnosis was made, Terrance felt like the pieces of his life fell into place. Terrance is one of many adults who were not diagnosed with ADHD as children but adults.
In the November/December issue of The Saturday Evening Post, veteran medical correspondent, Sharon Begley, explains the science behind how adults are learning to cope with their ADHD symptoms.
“We so often tend to link ADD and ADHD to children that we regularly fail to recognize adults’ symptoms as ADHD,” said Steven Slon, editorial director, The Saturday Evening Post. “Diagnosis allows them to finally seek help and find solutions to questions they were previously unable to answer and problems they were unable to circumvent.”
Begley, “While some people may think that ADHD is caused from today’s disjointed world of smartphones, tablets, and the like, or a result of bad parenting, in fact that is not the case. ADHD is highly heritable, and there is suspicion that conditions in the womb can increase a child’s risk. Although much scientific advancement has been made in adult ADHD, there is still a lot to be learned. As with most mental illnesses, a combination of medication and psychological therapy can markedly reduce symptoms of ADHD in adults.”
Check out the full report, especially if you or someone you know suspects he or she may have ADHD.
The complete report appears in the November/December issue of The Saturday Evening Post or online at http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2012/10/22/wellness/adult-adhd.html.
Plus: To read comments from Ty Pennington, Andres Torres, and others with ADHD, visit www.saturdayeveningpost.com/adhd.