Using the 5 Love languages to connect with your step-children

The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman was written in 1995 and has become more popular among couples globally, selling over 13 million copies. The book sparked a new way of thinking about how we love and how we like to receive love. It clearly explained not only how to say “I love you” but also how we can hear it clearly by teaching people how to express love in their spouses language.

According to Dr. Chapman, there are five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. To read them in detail , get the book here.

In this post, I will be summarizing the five love languages and how understanding your stepchildren’s love language can help you start and form a long lasting connection with them.

Words of affirmation

Actions speak louder than words right? Well, while this is true, the words mean just as much as the actions. Positive affirmations are just as important for children’s emotional and mental well being as is their nutrition, sleep and exercise. What you put into your child is what you’re going to get out of your child. If they only hear negative comments about themselves or their parents, they will actually begin to display more and more of those negative traits. 

When they’re young, children derive their own identity from their parents. That is why they blame themselves when mom and dad divorce/separate. This is one of the biggest unfavorable situations that children can face in their lives. If they feel bad about the situation, it may cause them to become more negatively motivated will feelings of guilt, sadness, anger and frustration. Your words of affirmation give them the ability to focus on the positive things and overcoming the situation. It’s therefore important that you become their biggest fan.

Photo credit : Nicholas Githiri

As a biological parent it is important to always reassure them of your love despite the break up with their other parent. A good place for step parents to start is to spend quality time together with their stepchildren, taking a keen interest in their activities as this reveals what the child is doing well and presents you with an opportunity for you to tell them just how great they are doing for example, when they bring home good test scores, an act of kindness to others, their outfit, a great game on the football pitch, a great performance at the school play or helping around the house.

Quality Time

This is can be anything from a family vacation, Sunday afternoon lunches after church, dinners, watching movies, running errands like shopping together, going for a run or a bike ride, etc. with your step-children. These activities done together help the kids feel secure because their parents are close to them. They feel insecure when plans are cancelled or if they perceive that their parent would rather be alone or with others and not them.

Photo Credit : Agung Pandit Wiguna

As a stepparent you have to find the balance here. If you are just starting out, this may look like letting the kids spend quality time with their biological parents without you in the picture. Initially they perceive a step parent especially stepmoms as competition. As your relationship grows you will graduate to spending time with the kids with your partner to doing some activities with the kids alone.

Find fun age appropriate activities that you can do together. For example I used to play X-box games with my step children. I would have each pick a game they love and we’d play it together. Other activities can include making a special meal, puzzles, picnics, outdoor games. If they can teach you something new even better. Make sure that you give your full and undivided attention during this time.

Giving Gifts

This love language is the reason why we all love it when we get gifts from people we love especially on special occasions like our birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers day, Fathers day etc. The gift can be anything, what matters is that it is given from the heart. You don’t need to spend a lot—or even any money at all, when it comes to getting gifts. Make or give
thoughtful gifts specific to the child interests. For example, if the child is a reader you can buy them a book on their birthday, or have a project with their sibling to create some cool bookmarks for them.

Photo Credit : Pixabay

The golden rule to apply here is that if the gifts are not for a specific occasion like a birthday make sure you get a gift for all the kids, biological and step. That way there is no room for any of them to feel like some kids are being favored over others.

Physical Touch

Physical affection towards our children is highly promoted and encouraged, both for bonding and for the promotion of their development and well being.  Children need regular touch in order to thrive. Hugs, hand-holding, cuddling, kisses, high fives and even a warm smile mean everything to them. Withholding this from them can make them feel like they are being rejected.

Photo Credit: Nappy

Remember that this again goes back to how comfortable you and your stepchildren are. This will guide you as to what you can or cannot do. Let them guide you. If you are just starting out, you may suggest activities that require close physical proximity like a board game, reading a book, sharing a blanket as you watch TV these will help you as you work your way up to those hugs and kisses

Acts of Service

This is basically love in action. Actions that go above and beyond to help your step children feel your love towards them. Initially this is all you will have in your bag of tricks. They will be constantly watching you to find out what you’re about and they can pick up when you’re love is not genuine. Acts of service may include activities like driving the kids where they need to go without being visibly stressed about it or complaining, especially if their biological parents are unable to do it for whatever reason, helping them with their homework, picking out gifts for the biological parents etc Basically anything that they ask for your help with or that their parent requires help with.

The concept of the 5 love languages have the power to improve any relationship in your life. What is important is that you seek to understand yourself first, understand your loved ones and make a consistent effort on the choice you made to love them.

Money questions you should ask before marrying a single parent

When I was doing my pre-marital counseling sessions there was one thing that really frustrated me, all the content, good as it was, made reference to the ideal first time couple. The virgin couple who would experience sex for the first time on their wedding night. The one that had no children from previous relationships, no exes constantly in your business and no extra set of relatives to put up with. The couple whose past remained exactly there, in the past. My hubby and I didn’t quite fit in this mold and I am pretty sure we were not the only ones. The advice we got was good for an ideal situation but we needed a little extra because some wheels were already in motion. We were a ready made family therefore the questions would be different and would require a different answer and approach all together.

Money is one of the biggest causes of friction and conflict in a marriage.  Anne Landers said “All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership”.

 

Discuss every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner

In order to have that healthy and constructive battle there are some specific aspects of marriage that every couple needs to discuss and address before they marry. Aspects such as the family values to be upheld, whether to have children or not and how many, dealing with in-laws, finances, spiritual life, couple sex and intimacy and many more. That is why we are encouraged to get pre-marital counselling in order to bring these areas to light and to give the couple an  opportunity to air their views of each matter and then together agree on what the family approach will be.

Couples with no children have the benefit of starting on a blank page and defining everything a fresh. They have no one else to consult but each other. They call the shots. For those who come into marriage with children from a previous relationship this is a much more complex and difficult discussion. The budget will include more items and considerations such as the children, the ex, already established lifestyles; making it an even more crucial discussion to have.

Discussing every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner will make your lives easier and help your marriage succeed. Here is a list of twelve questions that you should ask your spouse to get the conversation started and agree on the way forward for your family’s financial well being. During the discussion please adhere to the ‘no heat, no judgement’ rule. Do not go off on your partner for having a different opinion and don’t judge them either. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

‘no heat, no judgement’. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

  1. What are your current financial obligations?
  2. Are you financially supporting your children/ Are you receiving child support ? What is the agreement with the ex spouse? How much and how frequent are the payments? Will they increase or decrease in future? When will they end? What do we do when we don’t receive scheduled child support?
  3. Do you have any joint debts with your ex spouse? (loans, mortgages, businesses, credit cards etc) If yes, how do you plan to remove yourself from these joint debts?
  4. What expectations do you have for me to support your family?
  5. Do you have any financial commitments to your parents, siblings, or other family members?
  6. Do we both have active employment? How will we handle childcare given our work schedules?
  7. What will our individual financial responsibilities towards running the home be? rent,utilities,insurance, education
  8. How will we handle the holidays?
  9. How will we unify our finances? Are we comfortable with one bank account or will we have “yours,” “mine,” and “joint”?
  10. What do we want to teach our children about money? Will we give allowances and in what amount?
  11. How will we resolve differences in spending and saving practices?
  12. How will we handle investments, property titles/deeds, insurance, wills?

Remember that whatever plan you come up with will not be static but will evolve as the seasons of life and other factors come to play in your every day life, so set some time discuss this and adjust the plan as and when change presents itself.

 

Why the biological mother of your stepchildren hates you

So you meet your prince charming and accept him and his kids knowing very well that they are a package deal. You cant have one without the other. You go ahead and get married, you take care of his children and try your best to be a positive influence in their lives. You work so hard to create a cohesive, functional family unit and yet it seems that it doesn’t matter what you do, your husbands ex, the biological mother of your stepchildren doesn’t like you at all. You would think that it would be better for everyone especially the children if you agreed and were on the same team but that is far from the reality, she hates you and you have no idea why. Technically you have checked every item on the “how to to be a smart stepmom” list,  if anything she should be thanking you and appreciating you for all that you do in her absence.

Truth is, she may never be upfront as to why she just cant stand you but here are some common reasons why moms do not like stepmoms, read on and see which ones fit your unique situation.

She did not choose you

“I never wanted you here. You simply were never part of the plan. Growing up and dreaming of my family I never included you.   I didn’t want help from another woman to raise my child.  The plan was for my family to include me, daddy and our children, not you. ” These were the words of Candice Curry, the founder of ‘Women with Worth’ in a blog-post titled “An Open Letter to my daughters stepmom” which went viral.

She echoes the words of many biological moms who find themselves in a similar situation. They never once thought that another woman would be raising their children and that they would have absolutely no say in that matter at all. You came into her territory and her guard just automatically went up.

She has little influence on her ex

Before you came along, your partner was less likely to muddy the waters with her. She probably got away with a whole lot more than she does now that you are in the picture. You see, now your husband listens to you, considers your point of view, has probably made several changes to accommodate you in the family and consults with you on all family matters. This used to be her, now that they are no longer an item, her power has decreased so it is not surprising that she blames you for this change.

You remind her of her failure

Whether she is the one who wanted the divorce or not, seeing you happy with her ex can be a bitter pill to swallow. No one ever gets into a marriage with the intention to get divorced and every divorced parent regrets the effects it has on their children. Perhaps your partner learnt his lesson and is now a better husband to you than he was to her. In any case, her perception of your relationship with her ex may anger her, whether she blatantly takes it out on you or not.

She is scared her children will love you

Ideally this should not be a threat because of the blood bond she has with her children. They will forever love and remain loyal to her despite whatever choices she makes in life, good or bad.  In her world however you are a threat and see you get along so well or hear warm stories about you from the kids may fuel her fire.

You are there for her children when she is not

This is especially so if you are a full-time stepmom with permanent custody and the biological mother is the one who does the visitation. You are there for every single milestone that her children make in her absence and that pisses her off. This is where you have to be wise as a stepmom and be very careful not to interfere with any firsts if you can help it because you give her the ammunition to hate you more.

She sees her weaknesses in you

You may be younger than she is, have a more successful career than she does, be more educated, prettier the list can be endless. Even if you are not, everyone has their own insecurities and its common for people to compare themselves unfairly to others and this situation is not different. She could be doing exactly that. Comparing herself to you and if this makes her feel inferior in any way is bound to take it out on you.

Whether all this is true or not, there should be no excuse for disrespect and animosity between moms and stepmoms. As adults we need to display maturity, address our insecurities head on, tackle valid issues amicably, respect each others contribution to the family and be the best we can be for the children’s sake.

If you are a stepmom who has to deal with an extremely difficult ex, you may not have much  control over her behavior toward you but you have control over how you react. Keep your head up and take the high road, always maintaining your self respect and dignity.

 

 

 

 

7 tips for success in your role as a stepmom

If there is one thing that all the stepmoms i have worked with confess is that they do not want to become the proverbial “evil stepmother.” While their intentions are good from the beginning the challenges that they have to overcome on a daily basis may sometimes be too much to handle or the stepmom may find themselves ill equipped to handle the curve balls of blended family life. As a stepmom your actions can either enable the growth of healthy relationships within the family or hinder them.

Here are a few tips to help you prevent the evil stepmom stigma and instead foster healthy relationships in your own stepfamily.

1. Commit to the long haul

Many times stepmoms come into the picture with high expectations and hopes for the happy family only to find out that its a lot harder than they expected. It takes between 4-7 years according to research, for a members of a step-family for create that authentic intimacy of a family. So its important that you are patient and that you commit to the long haul, continuously striving for love and acceptance through all the challenges. It may feel like for every step forward you take 3 steps backwards but consistency with your love and actions will pay off in the long run.

2. Don’t take everything so personally

Stepmoms struggle with many insecurities, they are constantly comparing themselves and competing with the biological mother. Unfortunately this only causes more problems because they can never measure up to “mom” in the eyes of the children. Instead of focusing on who you are not, its important for you to focus on who you are and what it is that you bring to the table and constantly strive to improve on that. That way you are secure in yourself and nothing anyone says be it your stepchildren, their mother/father, extended family or other outsiders can bring you down.

3. Direct your efforts toward being a friend rather than a parent

The goal of any stepparent should always be to build a relationship with the children. Becoming a parent too soon generates anger and resentment from the children and this only jeopardizes your relationship with them. Leave that to the biological parents and focus on building your relations with the children, getting to know them a little better and allowing them to know you as well. Once the relationship is in place, parenting becomes a lot more acceptable by the children and much easier on you as well.

4. Make your marriage a priority

Parenting demands can consume much of you and your partners time and energy making it very easy for the marriage to take a back seat, yet marriage is the very foundation of any family and if it is strong the family will in turn be strong but if it is weak then the family crumbles. You and your partner need to spend time apart as a couple, back each other up when it comes to parenting and discipline and act as a unified front displaying a friendship that positively impacts  the children.

5. Encourage healthy co-parenting

Its important for every child to have a relationship with their mother and father whether they are together or not. Its therefore important for you to allow your spouse and his ex to co-parent the children with healthy boundaries in place of course. In the same way do stay out of any disputes between your spouse and their ex. Its crucial that the homes do not meddle in each others business, but critical to have the basic rules and schedules for the kids respected regardless of which home they are in.

6. Recognize and appreciate your stepmom role 

Your role as as stepmom is very important and you should not let anyone negate it. Sure, it is different from the one of the biological mom but that does not mean it is not as critical. Stepparents have the ability to remain objective and recognize unhealthy patterns in the children simply because they are not blinded by the unconditional love and blood bond that parents share with their children.  This is a huge advantage for step-families if only they recognize and embrace it.

7. Do not quit

The divorce rate among re-married couples is higher than that of first time marriages. This is due to the step-family dynamics that present unique challenges for the couple and every member of the family. The stepmom journey is a difficult one for sure but it is also worthwhile but only for those who stick with it to the very end. Therefore commit to the long run one day at a time.

 

Mother’s Day for Step-moms. Husbands, You Carry The Day

While the whole world celebrates Mothers Day this year, millions of mothers receive calls, messages and gifts from their children wishing them a Happy mothers day. Thanking them for all the care and love they have received from them since they set foot into this world. At the same time, millions of stepmothers in the world wonder whether they will receive a call, a message or a gift to thank them for the care and love they have given even though they do not hold the title ‘mom’. Those whose stepchildren appreciate and embrace them and whose spouses have seen and appreciated their work are lucky to get some form of appreciation. Others are not so lucky.

If there is a day of the year that can trigger either happiness or sadness for a step-mom it’s Mothers Day. One of the reasons why this day has such extreme emotions is because many step-moms feel like they do all the work a parent does physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. They may have changed the diapers, done the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptism, they may have bailed out their children over and over again but they don’t get to enjoy the pleasures associated with being a mom. They do all the work but since they don’t have the title, its easily overlooked, forgotten and unappreciated so if you are wondering why your spouse is in a dull mood today, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.

Many of the step-moms I have spoken to concerning this particular holiday have made it clear that Mothers Day is not about the gifts or the flowers but its about wanting to feel like what they do matters. That it counts for something and that its appreciated and not just on one day but everyday of the year.

Whereas you cannot force the children to do something special for your wife on Mother’s Day, as the spouse you can show your appreciation for what she does. The truth is, for many stepmoms, the only person who is there to celebrate them is their husband. The kids will most likely spend Mother’s Day with their bio mum and rightfully so. Therefore husbands, celebrating your spouse today and every other day of the year often falls on your shoulders.  She loved you and your children enough to choose and accept one of the most challenging and thankless jobs in the world. Acknowledge her work and thank her for it. Give her words of encouragement when no one else remembers how much effort it takes to be a step-parent.

To all mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers and all women who give care to children in any capacity.  Living In Step Africa acknowledges, honors and appreciates you today and wishes you a Happy Mothers Day!

Your girlfriends wont throw you a stepmothers shower so read this

Contrary to the extremely popular myth that stepmothers  are evil, there are quite a number of great ones out there. The smart ones. The ones who don’t try to replace the biological mother nor insist that the children call her mom. The ones who prepared to handle the complexities of step-family life. The ones who discover the things they can control and let go of the things they cannot. I could go on and on but that’s an article for another day. Am pretty sure you know one, a good friend of yours, your sister or may be even your mother. These step-moms always look like they have it together. They are happy and cheerful most times, giving you all manner of stories about their family, their spouse, their children and their family life in general. Listening to them am sure you have found yourself saying “You are so strong. I have no idea how you do it, if I were in your shoes, I would not be able to handle this with the courage, grace, dedication and commitment that you have.” If you are a step-mom you have probably heard this a million times from your friends and family. I know I have.

However, the truth is that there is really no such thing as a perfect step-mom. They may seem perfect from the outside but the truth is they struggle. Everyday, they struggle with the tiniest of things that ordinary families just don’t have to deal with. They constantly choose to rise every time they fall and believe me falls are in plenty in step relations especially for a family that’s just starting out. It eventually eases with time but with step-families every unique stage in family life especially for those that are centered around the children has the potential to generate memories of loss, new feelings of inadequacy or guilt, fear and other insecurities. All of which, if not handled properly can easily escalate to conflict for the couple and the children.

For those who are already stepmothers with several months or years under their belt, you will definitely understand what I have to say next since you have been through it. However if you are new to this or are dating a man with children and planning on settling down then this is for you. Unfortunately there are no models or manuals and your girlfriends will definitely not throw you a stepmother shower so here are some of the experiences all stepmothers go through that you are bound to experience yourself. This is to prepare you for the journey to come, to comfort you during any one of these moments and to give you courage and strength to keep going but more importantly to let you know you are not alone.

You will cry …. a lot

The dynamics of step-families are so different from those in original families. If they are not handled properly they have the power to turn into conflict causing you much stress in your relationships both with the children and with your spouse. Between meeting the children, meeting your ex-in-law, embracing your identity crisis and adjusting to suspicion, resentment, rejection and biological parent loyalties you will have plenty of moments to cry your eyes out. There is nothing wrong with that, its a good, healthy way to release your feelings. However,  after you wipe your tears you will have to take action in order to change your situation. Start by setting the right expectations. Step-families take time to bond and become one, for everyone to be comfortable with everyone. You are not the only one adjusting and not all the members will adjust at the same time. The adults tend to adjust much faster while the children are usually way behind. Do not ignore this fact. Learn how to deal with with all the dynamics. Equip yourself with right knowledge and apply this in your situation and slowly by slowly, step by step, day by day you will learn how to deal and live with it all. It will take time and lots of time so be patient.

You will doubt yourself

It is not surprising for stepmothers to question their abilities, their position and their success even when there are signs all around them that they are doing something well or at the very least they are on the right track. You will find yourself asking “Why did my partner pick me? who am I to raise and love someone else’s children? what authority do I have to parent yet I have never had children of my own? who am I to have a strong successful family? Can I really do this? what in the world did I get myself into?

These doubts will always creep in every once in a while. They can be your own internal thoughts or negative ones from people around you.  Honore de Balzac said “When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” During these moments you will have to ground yourself. Don’t focus on past experiences and comments from other people. Surround yourself with people believe in you. Those who know you for who you truly are and remind you when you forget. Balance the negative by writing down 5-10 positive things about yourself and finally, take a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed and feel like things are not going so well, take some time away from that situation and focus on something totally different. Sometimes shifting your focus away from what you are stuck on helps you take a new perspective when you come back to it.

You will wish you could run away

Many stepmothers occasionally wish they were not in the situation that they are in, more so during the tough times. This is totally natural for us humans to do when things don’t go as we have planned. The Israelites did it when they were stuck in the dessert for 40 years before finding their way to Canaan. They were convinced that slavery was better. There are times you will feel stuck. You will have no idea which direction to go and your past will seem more attractive than your present. During this time its important to remind yourself of the big picture. Your promised land. The reason why you do what you do day in day out with dedication. That will help you refocus your energies positively.

You will be lonely

You will feel like a total outsider in your own home.  This is mainly because you have to fit in to a ready made family with its own history and traditions formed way before you came into the picture. Before you fully adjust to this accommodating old family traditions and developing new ones it will be easy to feel like the stranger in the family. Don’t despair, you can overcome these feelings. It will be important for your partner to help integrate you in the family. Changes like moving to a new house will help everyone get a sense of a new beginning for the new family since its neutral. Allow your partner to spend time alone with their children. What this says to them is that you are not stealing their dad away from them which will make them view you less as a threat and more as a friend. Take baby steps. Rome was not built in a day and neither was a successful step-family. Take it slow, let the children guide your pace. During those lonely moments, call up your girlfriends. Time spent laughing or crying with your friends helps restore and rejuvenate you.

You will overcome

Its not all doom and gloom. Despite the challenges, if you are set on succeeding and do everything in your power to achieve it, you will reap the rewards. Like I said, there are many great stepmothers out there, they went through the same ups and downs and succeeded. The only difference between those to make it to the other side and those who give up and quit, is perseverance. Only those who stick with it, those who are committed to the process are victorious. Ensure that you always have the proper perspective. Equip yourself with knowledge about step-family life whether its through reading or coaching and apply the strategies and tools you learn in your own circumstance. Then and only then will you have solid foundation on which you can build the kind of family you desire. One day you will look back and say it was well worth it.

Happy Hump Day!

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!

The single parent and dating

I remember when I started dating. It was only a matter of time before I discovered just how difficult it is. Now when you have children it is downright complicated. Everyone is involved, and I mean everyone. There is you and your partner. The kids are engaged, at least on some level, even when you don’t think they are. The Ex is also engaged and everyone has strong emotions and opinions about everyone else who is involved and what the end result might be. Now if both of you have kids multiply all that by 2. No wonder single parents cringe at the bare thought of dating someone let alone settling down and marrying them.

As complicated as it is, its possible to climb this mountain and create a successful family the second time around. However it requires hard work, wisdom, patience and deliberate choices from the beginning and at every phase of the dating period. If you are a single parent or are dating one here are some best practices for you to consider as you start and go through dating.

Avoid a Quick U-Turn

Do not date soon after the end of a relationship whether by death, divorce, separation or breakup. Single parents who decide to marry/date someone shortly after the previous relationship ends will often find their children more resistant to their new partner. This is because the children are still grieving and cannot understand how their dad/mum has moved on so quickly. This also sabotages the ability of your partner the new stepparent and stepchild to get off on the right foot with one another and puts the whole family at risk.

So relax, sit in your pain and understand why the relationship ended, what was your contribution to its end? What lessons have you learned for the experience? Are you ready to let go, to forgive and move on? Unfortunately there is no reset button. You have to go through all the motions.

Mirror! Mirror! on the wall

The smart single parent takes a good long look in the mirror before they start dating. Find out what is motivating you to start dating. Your answers will let you know whether you are truly ready to date or are looking for an ‘elastoplast’ solution to deeper unresolved issues. Look out for reasons rooted in fears e.g. your children not having a father, being the only one in your family or circle of friends with a broken family, loneliness or unresolved pain after a divorce or nasty break up. These are red flags and ignoring them can only lead to more pain and disappointment if you enter into a new relationship

Have “What if?” Conversations with your children

Way before you even start dating, single parents need to begin a series of conversations with their children that go a little something like this, “What if I began dating? How would you feel?” If it’s someone they are already familiar with mention their name. “What if John and I were engaged?” “What if John’s kids came over every Friday during this December holiday?”

Each conversation will help you assess how your kids feel about these possibilities and/or realities. It also prepares them for what might happen. A smart single parent listens and gives serious consideration to how the children are feeling. Engage in these conversations throughout your dating experience, in anticipation of each stage of a developing relationship.

Acknowledge your Child’s Fears

Based on the “what if” conversations you have with your children you may uncover some fears they have with regard to you dating. Validate your child’s fears. It shows them that their feelings are important to you; it keeps the communication door open. Reassure them constantly. Later in the relationship, you new partner will also needs to do this in order to help them deal with the threat of having someone new in their lives

You’re potentially creating a Family

The truth is when you start dating the couple’s relationship creates competing attachments. The choice to be with the dating partner or children generally means the other is left waiting…and wondering how their relationship with you is being influenced by your relationship with the other. This is why your new partner may complain that you spend too much time with your children and not enough with him/her and your children may feel you spend all your time with your new partner. In addition, children commonly feel some insecurity by mom or dad’s relationship with another person.

Do not assume that becoming a couple necessarily means that you can become a family. As a single parent you have to attend to both ‘being a couple’ and ‘being a family’ always assessing how the potential stepfamily relationships are developing.

Introductions

The first few dates should be about  and between the two of you. Spend time together without the children. At the beginning you can refer to your date as “a friend” or if your kids are prepared, call them your “date.” When you start off go for casual introductions. Don’t put your kids and the person together until you are sure there are real possibilities for the relationship especially if your children are under the age of five. They tend to bond to people very quickly.

As your relationship grows, gradually become more intentional about finding time for your boy/girlfriend and kids to get together. Be cautious and conscious at first and monitor everyone’s feelings, fears or concerns. If the other person has children as well, it might be prudent to have get-togethers with just one set of children and a separate activity with the other set of children at a later date. This is because managing multiple relationships can be overwhelming. Eventually, though, if your dating relationship continues to deepen, you’ll want to get everyone together for a shared activity.

Teens and adult children need to move toward your dating partner at their own pace. If you take it upon yourself to get them to love and accept your partner you are only sabotaging yourself and creating room for resistance. Instead, create opportunities for them to get to know each other without forcing it. Show respect and allow the relationship to develop at its own pace.

Pace yourself… it’s a marathon, not a sprint

When you fall in love it’s tempting to want to spend all of your time with your new found love. Don’t abandon your kids by spending all of your free time with your new partner. Doing so only taps into your child’s fears that they are losing you and also gives the false impression to your dating partner that you are totally available to them. You’re not. Don’t lose your balance.

If You Don’t Have Kids

Encourage the single parent you are dating to be with their kids and spend time with them, without you, every once in a while. This helps lessen the fears of the children; and it keeps perspective in your relationship. You might you feel a little left out and lonely but then this relationship is as much about the children as it is about you. If you can’t get used to this notion and learn how to deal with it, then you’ll be a miserable stepparent

Expect Hot and Cold Reactions

Liking mummy’s/ daddy’s new boy/girlfriend creates a loyalty problem for kids: They don’t know how to embrace your partner without hurting their biological parents feelings. Because of this they can be warm and accepting sometimes and other times turn cold. Don’t panic or judge the children too harshly. Relax and work with what they give you. Reacting negatively will only make their loyalty stronger and in turn work against you

What’s Your Family Vision

What vison do you have of your family and the spouse you allow into it? You cannot judge lasting love and relationships by physical attributes or the ‘chemistry’ between you and your partner. You need an objective measure of the values and character of the person you are looking for not just as your partner but also as a parent for your children. You cannot have one and not the other. For example if the person you are dating isn’t good parent material with your children or with theirs you ought to move on even if you love them as a partner. Some things will not change because of marriage

 Learn All You Can About Step-family Life

Finally the secret to success of stepfamilies is getting smart about stepfamily life. Getting smart means learning all you can about stepfamily dynamics, how stepfamilies 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.

 

 

 

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.”