Meet your ex-in-law: Part 2 Dealing with the challenges

In my last blog post we discussed the new member of your step-family, your ex-in-law. We saw how he/she is a big part of your family whether you like it or not and got into the most common issues and sources of conflict in your family due to this dynamic. If you missed it you can check it out HERE.

Today we will go through how you deal with these challenges, avoid unnecessary conflict and confidently deal with the ones that do materialize

Loyalty Declaration

Your partner needs to communicate your presence and relationship to both his ex and the children. He/she needs to let them know they have a new partner (the step-mom or step-dad) who is now going to be a member of the family. This should be done early enough during dating when the couple determines the permanency of their relationship. This gives everyone ample time to adjust the change slowly and at their own pace in all aspects of step-family life like the emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, legal changes involved. It also goes a long long in giving the step-mom/step-dad that first credibility before they form their own relationships with the existing family

No Threat Message

This is probably the single most effective way to avoid unnecessary conflict. The no threat message says to the biological parent that you realize you are not their children’s biological parent and neither are you trying to replace them. The earlier this is communicated verbally, in writing and with actions the better for all family members. This is especially true for the biological parent and their children.  For the children this will give them the freedom to love everyone without feeling like they are betraying their biological parent. Small gestures can go a long way to communicating this to children. For example, letting the children make phone calls to their parents, freedom to visit their parents, not badmouthing their parents in their presence

You are not moms/dads replacement

Its important to realize that you are not the replacement for the children’s mom or dad. The role of the step-parent is usually very ambiguous and confusing if one is not well educated on the step-family dynamics. Very many fall into the trap of staging a hostile take over forcing everyone to recognize and respect their position and authority. This approach will always backfire. Give yourself time to bond with the children and slowly you will earn their respect and they will look up to you as an authority. During this time your partner should take the lead role in the parenting aspects. Its also important that they discuss with the children minimum standards of respect for you the step-parent. The love will take time to form and patience is key

Couple Strength

This is extremely important for any step-family. The dynamics of this family presents a lot of challenges and if the couple is unable to present a united front, the challenges can escalated to levels that increase the stress and strain in the marriage. Discuss issues respectfully with each another and agree on resolution with each partner working on their contribution. Talk about the ex and the challenges you are struggling with and together with your partner agree on the best approach to overcome them for a stronger family. This also applies to any other challenges that will come your way

Be open to learning

Finally the secret to success of step-families is getting smart about step-family life. Getting smart means learning all you can about step-family dynamics, how step-families function, operate best, and why they have the unique challenges that they do. This will help you make informed decisions not just based on your emotions/feelings. Adopt the attitude of a learner.

Have a great week!

Top 5 things that all stepparents have to deal with

So you knew your spouse had children before you met them. Now what? Most people do not think about the next move in the game. They are clueless about just how different stepfamilies are to biological families. They jump in with the mentality that all will be well, that they will apply the knowledge from their own family experience, apply it and BOOM! success. This is one of the greatest misconceptions. Ever tried cooking lasagnia with a mandazi recipe? That’s sheer ridiculousness right? Well in the same way don’t try and cook your stepfamily with a biological family recipe. You will fail miserably.

The reason the two families are so different is because of some additional factors that biological families don’t have to deal with. Here are the top 5 factors that everyone getting into a stepfamily situation should have in mind and learn how to deal with each for a successful family

1. The Ex

You can never get rid of the the Ex husband/wife, girlfriend/borfriend. Baby momma and baby daddy are here to stay so deal with it especially if they are actively involved in the children lives. Bad mouthing them in front of the children will only make things more difficult for you. Children view this as a threat and will defend their mum or dad fiercely. Their loyalty is with them, even if they are junkies, imprisoned or absent. So keep whatever negative opinions you may have to yourself or speak them to your spouse in private. Never in front of the kids. Respect is the bare for the sake of raising the children well.

If you think because the ex spouse is dead it will be easier, you are wrong. You might find yourself competing with a ghost as the children measure you against the memory of the lost parent.

Consider also the fact that its possible that you could be dealing with multiple Ex spouses. Which is even more complex

2. The Kids

If your spouse has children, just know that children are part of the package. You cannot have one without the other. Neither can you compete with them. They are blood. We all know blood is thicker than water. The sooner you realize this and start respecting the children and trying to earn their respect as well the better for the family. You will need to be patient though as this doesn’t happen overnight. According to the children you are the person in between mum and dad, you are the threat. Don’t try and be their mums or dads replacement. Just be you. Let the kids accept you as you are. When they see you are not a threat to their relationship with their mother or father, they will start to let you in slowly

3. Child support

Who has permanent custody of the children? Who pays for what? Does your spouse also support his Ex? These are some of the issues that arise here. The problem is that the stepparent in this situation feels the pressure of having to support another family so to speak. This is unavoidable. Do understand that your spouse has to take care of his family as well, especially if he does not have permanent custody of the children. Also discuss this with your spouse especially if you have concerns so that you can work it out together as a team

4. Visitation Schedules

One parent will definitely have the kids permanently and the other will have the visitation. Visitation schedules can be a serious source of conflict especially if they are random. You may find yourself a s a stepparent having to pick or drop off the kids when you had made other plans. The key here is have a schedule that all parties agree and adhere to. That way everyone can manage their time and personal schedules as well

5. Legal Issues

There are various legal issues that come into play with stepfamilies. Child custody arrangements, legal guardianship for the stepparent, child support, succession and the will. These cannot be ignored. It would be best to engage a family lawyer to discuss your unique situation as they vary from family to family. As well as have your concerns addressed from a legal perspective. You and your partner can then agree on the best decisions to make for your family.

At all times remember that you and your partner are a team so look into these issues together and plan together for the success of your family.

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.”