Start with the end in mind

Imagine if you had to put together a 1000 piece puzzle. You are shown the picture on the box and the pieces are poured out for you to put it together. You are then blindfolded and told that the picture you were shown doesn’t fit the pieces that you are working with. And the guy wishes you good luck and leaves the room. Where would you begin? Am sure you are already frustrated just thinking about it right? I mean, unless you are Chris Angel, that puzzle isn’t getting done any time soon. Matter of fact it isn’t getting done ever!

You see when you get into a stepfamily situation, whether you are the stepmom or stepdad it can feel pretty much like the puzzle analogy. The puzzle pieces of your stepfamily do create a home however the picture doesn’t look anything like that of a biological family which most of us normally have in mind. The natural tendancy is to treat your new home like a biological one. Similar to what you grew up in. You would be surprised that even adults who were children of divorce and grew up in stepfamilies still make this mistake.

I am no different. I walked straight into that one when I started out with my stepfamily to be. I was standing smack in the middle of our fog of love. I thought due to our love, shared values, acknowledgement of our situation and the challenges that lie ahead of us and the unwavering commitment to make it work would make everything fall into place. Well, it didn’t. At least not as fast as I thought it would. It was a deceptive mirage. Kind of like this one time I went hiking the rocky hills in Ukambani with a couple of friends of mine. As we stood at the base of the hills looking up to our final destination, I thought to myself  “Hmmmm, this is going to be easy. The hill is not so rocky, neither is it as steep as I had thought it would be.” Turns out I had spoken too soon. As we started climbing I realized the hill was indeed very rocky, and very steep and the distance? Much longer than I had anticipated. Needless to say I bitched all the way up the hill (excuse my French) until I got to the top.  In the same way, I never quite knew what I was getting myself into until I started to climb my stepfamily mountain so here’s my advice to you dear stepmom or stepdad;

 

Lesson #4

Know that YOUR STEPFAMILY IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE ANYTHING LIKE A BIOLOGICAL FAMILY. Do not try and fit the puzzle pieces of your stepfamily to match a biological families picture. It will fail. A stepfamily is different in so many ways and its dynamics are also different. Take for example the parties involved. It’s not just mum, dad and the kids. It’s you and your spouse, your kids, your spouses kids if any. Children are normally the obvious part of the package but in that same package you also get ex spouses and ex in laws which can be multiple as well not just one. You basically get your spouses past as well. Now most people are unaware of this hence the numerous conflicts surrounding stepfamilies. Pretending these parties do not exist only causes you more stress. The sooner you acknowledge this and are smart about how to handle it early the better and easier it is for you to manage each and every relationship wisely for the success of your own.

The other disillusionment for adults getting into stepfamilies is how long it takes to bond and create that stable family relationship. Well, studies in the US have shown that the average stepfamily takes about seven years to form and bond and function as a stable family unit. Of course this varies from case to case. Mine took about 4 years just to build a relationship with the children and it is still a work in progress. I still face new challenges daily so my climb continues. Therefore get in knowing that it will take time and be very very patient about it. All children want their mummy together with their daddy, that’s the bottom line. It will take them time to accept you as the new person in mummy’s or daddy’s life. So give them time and space to do so.

 

And  finally as a bonus lesson, please do not bitch as you climb up the mountain. There is a reason why I was never invited to another hiking trip ever. Maya Angelou once said, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

Love is in the air

People the world over, no matter their age, race or religion, believe in romantic love. Remember the time you had your first heartbreak? I do. I called in to work sick and spent the whole day crying taking breaks in between to breath and drink an Irish whiskey and cream based liqueur, made by Gilbeys of Ireland. You probably know it better as Baileys. I was in so much pain that I thought being run over by a truck would be more bearable. I swore I would never see another guy ever and I would never be vulnerable to rejection ever again. I was done with the whole dating thing. Am pretty sure the universe was looking down on me and laughing knowing that it was only a matter of time before I found a new catch and forgot all about my pain. You see, we are all designed with the need to connect and be paired with a member of the opposite sex. That’s why people who have lost their partners from a painful divorce, death or a rejection of a girlfriend/boyfriend with whom they share a child with sooner or later come out of their pit of loss and embrace the possibility of love.

Dating a single parent is not easy, both for the single parent and the person dating the single parent. They both have complicated questions for which they require answers. The single parent wonders “how will my dating affect the bond I have with my children? Are the children ready for me to start dating? Will the person am dating love my children as their own and not harm them? How in the world will I introduce my new catch to the children, will they like him/her?

The person dating the single parent on the other hand wonders, how will I make a good impression on the kids? How the hell do I date in a crowd? (that’s dating with kids in the picture 🙂 ) If we do settle down together, what will be my role in this ready made family? What will my friends and family think of our union?

As you can see, its very complicated. In a biological family, the couple comes first. The marriage precedes the family and it is the foundation upon which everything else is built on. There is no competition between the parents and the children. The children draw their strength and security from the marriage. If dad and mum are happy, the kids are happy. However, when single parents have a love relationship with someone who is not the biological parent of their children there is a competing attachment. To the children, their parents love and new dedication to a new partner will not strengthen the children’s relationship with their parent. Rather, it will compete. This is what we all refer to as the child being jealous. In the same way the new partner may also feel like they are competing with the child for the time and affection of the parent.

A jealous child + a jealous girlfriend/boyfriend + a clueless single parent is a real recipe for disaster. That’s why once you get over the initial dating phase, after the sparks fly, after the fireworks and unexplainable chemistry that drew you two together fades and the butterflies in your stomach and the warm hearty feelings are no more and you think you are in love and ready to begin a new chapter in your life. After all that, then the real work begins

Lesson #2

Always keep in mind the complexity of becoming a new family. Whether you are the single parent or the person dating a single parent. You will have to be consciously aware of the competing attachment and know how to get over the hurdles it will place in your path. Beware of your emotional , psychological, spiritual  and relational preparedness for dating and at the same time keeping an eye on the children and see how the dating is impacting them if you are the single parent. Note that while adults are ready to move on and find new love and form a new family the children are always ten steps behind. As the parent, walk with them at their pace, explaining in a manner that they understand what is going on with you and your new life and your new partner. Always reassuring them with words and actions that none of that take away your love for them.

If you are the one dating the single parent, be aware that you are not only dating the mother or father of the children but you are also dating the whole family. And that you will have to also bond with the children and create a friendship. You will have to earn their respect and this will take as long as the kids will need to feel comfortable enough to let you in. They set the pace, not you therefore you will need to be patient with them. Veeeeeeeery patient.

Lesson #3

I got you! and I will give you guidance through this blog on how to overcome the challenges that step-families present before, during and after they are formed. The issues are classic and every stepmom and stepdad faces them. I personally went through them and if you are in the same situation, you are not alone.

WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER!

 

It all started with HIM

… and he was amazing, he still is. I mean, he was everything I dreamed of… OK! I lie, I never quite had a dream, but he was funny and witty and I like myself a nice hearty laugh, that and the fact that he never used any pick up lines on me. I HATE those. None of that “what do you do for fun” interrogation questions that I never quite know how to respond. Conversation was so easy, like we knew each other from another life and we were just old friends catching up.  We even finished each others sentences, now that’s the stuff of movies. I was elated and couldn’t wait to see how this relationship would pan out.

I recall the day he told me he had a son. I didn’t think much of it.  He on the other hand looked like he was having a hard time with my reaction, maybe he expected some level of surprise. Unfortunately I seemed to have missed that cue. It was not a big deal for me, even though it was the first time I was dating a man with children. In retrospect I am so glad he was honest with me and that he did it early, way before there was anything between us. Which brings me to;

Lesson #1

Find out early in the relationship whether your partner has children or not. If you are the one with the kids, let your partner know. You see this can be a deal breaker for some people and you are better of knowing early before you invest all your time, energy, emotions and affection on something that will not work. No amount of time can change a person’s mind who has decided they are never going to settle down with someone who has children. It takes someone with a real big heart to care for a child that is not theirs and if you have a child, this is exactly the kind of person you want to settle down with.

On the day he went down on one knee in as much as it was just the two of us in that moment, I knew at the back of my mind that I was not just saying yes to him but to his children as well. Its a full package and you cannot have one without the other.