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.

Stop doing these 6 things if you want to be a good stepmom

” I want to be a good stepmom”.  This is the number one reason given by the women who walk into my office for one on one coaching sessions. They yearn to have great relationships with their stepchildren. They want to have a functional family so badly despite all the stuff that is going wrong. I have learnt from my own experience as well as that of other women that the ones who make it are the ones who stick with it despite swimming against the current. The hard headed, relentless ones who fail and pick themselves up time and again. Those are the stepmoms who reap the fruits of love and happiness and acceptance.

How can I be that woman you ask? well you have to be prepared to roll your sleeves up and go get it. It will sure as hell not be given to you by anyone. You will have to earn your stripes. The only way to do that is by changing course and tact. You have to stop the things that are holding you back in the first place. Quit doing these 6 things this year and start experiencing that change that you yearn for.

 

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Stop giving up

Step-families are not the kind of thing where you’re in today and out tomorrow when things do not go your way. Remember that they are born out of loss and everyone is subconsciously hoping that they do not have to go through another one. Purpose to check in and stay in no matter what curveballs come your way. No one is asking you to be super woman. Its absolutely human to feel hurt, drained, like giving up, to want a break or change of scenery. Do whatever you have to do to get rid of the negative thoughts and get into a better mental state to continue with your journey. Remember, those who succeed are those who stick with it.

Stop thinking you are alone in this

The stepmom journey can be a very lonely one. First of all people around you do not understand or relate to what you are going through. You might have low self esteem feeling like you don’t belong or second guessing yourself and your abilities or you may be down playing your success. All these can make you feel like you are all alone. The truth is you are not. I have always been vocal about my stepmom journey even when I felt like crawling under a rock and living there for the rest of my life. Over time I realized that the more open I was about it the more others shared their stories as well. Trust me, there are so many other women just like you and I out there who have made it. So you are not alone. Surround yourself with such people who are not ashamed of their truth. Being able to openly share your experiences also lifts the burden of perfection off your shoulders.

Stop focusing on everything you are not and start shining the light on everything you are.

At the beginning of my journey I really struggled with this one. I would think and really marinate over all the things I was not. How I was not a mom, how I was never going to give my partner his first child, basically very many family related firsts for me would not be the same for him. It bugged the hell out me and overthinking it definitely stole my joy. Then I realized what I was doing to myself and to my relationship and decided if I was going to make this work I needed to accept the things that I could not change and embrace all the Wendiness that I was bringing to the table. I am a unique individual with my own unique talents, gifts and experiences that I could share with my new family including my partner. That yes, while some things were not a first time for both of us, it was the first time he wa doing those things with me and that meant something. I embraced these truths and shifted my focus to who I was and believe me it paid off big time with my relationship with my partner and stepchildren as well.

Stop being so hard on yourself

No one ever dreams of being a stepmom. Its not on any woman’s bucket-list. Prince charming has no children. For this reason no woman who ends up as one has a blueprint for navigating this journey. You will make mistakes so don’t punish yourself for them. Learn from them and keep it moving. Remember the goal is not perfection, it’s progress.

Stop running away from your problems

Problems will not disappear simply because you have chosen to sweep them under the rug and pretend they don’t exist. Every family has its own problems, not just stepfamilies. Whatever issues arise, own them and deal with them together with your partner. Make sure you come up with a solution that works for everyone. Otherwise the more unresolved issues you pile up on your self, your marriage and your children the messier it gets later on.

Stop dwelling on the negative

You need to stop swimming in negative thoughts or keeping the company of negative people. This will only make you have a negative mindset and attitude towards everything and it will drag you down. Life is such that you have good days and you have bad days but if you choose keep a positive attitude , you accept what life throws your way and make the best out of it. Stay positive

 

 

 

 

5 things no one tells you about marrying a widower

One type of step-family dynamic that we don’t seem to talk or hear enough about is being married to a widower. There is a notion I have heard from ladies when it comes to this subject matter. Many of them believe that its easier to marry a widower than it is to marry a single dad or a divorcee. The main reason being of course that there will be less stress because the ex in this case is no longer alive so there is no bio moms to battle with, no child custody or visitation issues, no child support and so on. However, the women who have been in this position, women who have dated and married widowers will tell you its a whole different ball game. They are clear that it’s not as easy as people will make it out to be. They confess that supporting a grieving partner and stepchildren is an uphill task and that they do face serious challenges in their new families.

What many stepmoms in this kind of situation forget is that grieving the loss of a loved one is a very personal journey. For some, it’s brief, they seem to move on pretty fast and get on with life as usual while for others, it’s long and onerous. Your partner will be grieving and so will his children. The kids may grieve differently from their parents and a lot of it will be influenced by the kind of relationship they had with the parent they lost. That is why our stepchildren may react very differently to us once we step in as new parents.

So what is it that couples in this kind of family need to know, look out for and handle graciously in order to provide everyone with a comfortable transition? From my work with stepmoms who are married to widowers the following five challenges are common and you will experience them should you be in a similar relationship.

A guilt ridden partner

When my dad passed on, I found myself thinking of what I could have done better or changed while he was still alive. I felt guilty. Guilty I didn’t call as much as I could have, guilty I didn’t take as much care of him while he was alive and more so when he was taken ill, guilty I didn’t visit him at the hospital in what would have been out last afternoon together. I should have been more patient with him, a little more aggressive with his doctors. I could go on and on. The list was endless. I kept feeling that there was always something more that I should have done. If you have ever lost someone dear to you then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Its not different in the case of a widower. They are bound to feel guilty about some things they did or did not do while their partner was alive. They may try to compensate for it in other ways either personally or through their children. For example, a dad may worship and adore his children more than ever to compensate for not being supportive of his wife or children, before her death. This may in turn affect parenting or discipline. He may not be able to say NO to his children when he needs to and this affects his relationship with his new wife.

Grieving stepchildren

Children tend to be a couple of steps behind the adults when they lose a parent. Not all the children will grieve the same way or learn to live with the loss at the same time. Some children may take this out on the newly introduced partner especially if the relationship is perceived to be too soon. Grieving stepchildren are not sure how to take the prospect of having a new parent figure. It feels like a betrayal to mom if they do and chances are they will feel that their dad is also betraying her by marrying you hence their rejection of you.

Living up to an angel

When someone dies, we tend to elevate them to some sort of sainthood. Our minds block out any bad they did and chooses to recall only the good. This means that when you come in as a stepmom the children will compare you to a perfect image of their mother and so will other members of the extended family especially those from moms side. So how on earth do you live up to an angel? How do you respond to constant comparison and always playing second best? All this adds on to the stress and strain of your relationship with them as well as your partner.

Extended family and friends that disapprove

You may endure a long list of opinions offered up by extended family and friends. These opinions may not always be positive. In fact some will be downright disrespectful and hurtful. You may be compared to the mom at every turn and no matter what you do never measure up. Some may make it very clear that they do not approve of you nor do they accept you into the family.

Living in a home that you didn’t choose 

There are cases where your partner or children or both are against the idea of moving to a new house. Their old home has more sentimental value now that “mom” is no more. Its not a surprise that they would want to hold on to it to uphold the memories and special moments shared in it. As the new wife you may find yourself with no option but to move in to this home that has memorabilia that serves as a continual reminder of your stepchildrens mom and this may present some challenges for you. Simple things such as redecorating, moving paintings or family pictures, packing and putting away moms old stuff may cause serious conflict between you and your partner and or the children.

All these are dynamics that you have to deal with when you marry a widower. The earlier you become aware of them and discuss them with your partner early in your relationship the better chance you have to avoid some of them or be well prepared to tackle them should they materialize. In next weeks blog we shall explore how you can overcome these challenges.

If you are dating or married to a widower what was your experience like? What challenges did you face, how did you overcome them and what advise would you give ladies who are in similar relationships? I would love to here from you. You can share by commenting directly on this article or write to me wendy@livinginstepafrica.com

 

 

 

 

Mother’s day advice for stepmoms who dread the day

I remember my first Mother’s day as a stepmom. ” Wendy”? My stepdaughter called. “You know its Mother’s day; would you please help me to pick out a gift for mum? You’re so good at picking out gifts”, she said.  My initial reaction was “of course, I would be thrilled to do it”. I actually thought it was quite nice that we had gotten to a place where she felt that she could come to me with a sensitive request like this one. I told my partner about her request so as soon as we were done with the Sunday church service we drove down to the mall. While we were going through the aisles searching for the perfect gift it dawned on me what I was doing. I went from zero to angry real quick. What in the world had possessed me to agree to this request? Why was I spending time picking up a gift for my stepchildren’s mother? I was pretty sure she wasn’t looking for one for me to thank me for being so good to her children so why was I the one being nice to her? I was visibly upset and disturbed and as the wheels in mind kept turning, my feet stopped moving, I no longer wanted to help but it was too late to back out. My partner noticed the sudden mood change and sought to find out what was wrong but it didn’t feel right to share my feelings smack in the middle of Nakumatt. Being the emotional person I was it would not have come out without being accompanied by tears so I gave the classic “nothing is wrong” answer. He must have quickly figured it out because he immediately took charge, picked a box of chocolates and off were to the check-out counter. That day was unbearable, not so much because of the experience of getting the mother of my children a gift but the realization that it did not  matter how good a maternal figure I was to the children, they never perceived me as a mother and expecting them to do so would only cause me disappointment. One of many turning points I have had in my journey.

 

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Mother’s day has got to be one of the most difficult holidays to deal with for stepmoms; especially the full time ones, the ones who have full custodial care of their stepchildren. The ones who do all the work a parent is supposed to physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. The ones, who have changed the diapers, helped with the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptisms and graduations. Those who have bailed out their stepchildren over and over again.  For the newbies, you have at one point hoped that being this mother figure, your stepchildren would see, acknowledge and appreciate you for what you do for them. However at some point you were forced to quickly snap back to reality and realize that they don’t see you as a mother at all. Or perhaps they do but they do not openly appreciate you for this on normal days let alone Mother’s day. This is why this day of the year can trigger either happiness or sadness. If you are man reading this and you wonder why your spouse is in a dull mood on Mother’s day, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.

I completely understand the roller-coaster stepmoms have to go through. On the one hand you are expected to have unconditional love for your partner’s kids and an ability to endure all things and sometimes even clean up messes you had no part in making in the first place. Yet, if you express normal feelings associated with the raising of children—like the frustration, disappointment and fatigue that come along with the job—you are viewed as selfish and evil. You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So how can you let yourself off the hook this Mother’s day; while at the same time making it easier for your stepchildren as well? For starters;

Set the right expectations.

Expecting your children to recognize you and shower you with gifts this Mother’s day is setting yourself up for major disappointment. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself or the children. Let the children do what they think is best. If it somehow involves you, then you are one of the lucky few. By all means enjoy it. If it doesn’t, do not take it personally. It’s not an attack on you or who you are.  Also do not try and sabotage or come in between any plans that they may have with their biological mothers. Whenever the children feel that their loyalty to their biological parent is threatened; either by your words or actions, they will resent you for it and this only increases the strain in your relationship. Children constantly battle loyalty conflicts where they feel that loving you and showing it openly directly translates to betraying their mother. Make it easy for them by removing yourself from the equation.

I have worked with some stepmoms who have no intention to replace the biological mother but their partner finds it difficult to accept this. They put pressure on the children to respond to the stepmom as they would their mother. During this time your partner may go to the extent of asking the children to acknowledge you or even buy you a card or some kind of token. While this is a noble intention it does more harm than good. Talk to your partner about this; let him know you are comfortable with the fact that the children do not view you as they do their biological mother. Chances are they never will. On the flip side, nothing prevents him from getting you a gift himself as a token of his appreciation for all your effort and sacrifice. So gents, if you feel your wife has been a great stepmom by all means show your appreciation for her on this day.

Work on developing thicker skin

Society has unrealistic expectations and sometimes extremely uninformed opinions about stepmothers and the role they play in the family especially in this country where step-families are an open secret. As a personal rule I don’t waste my time trying to explain stepmom life or justifying anything to anyone who has not walked in my shoes. Only stepmoms would truly understand your thoughts and feelings especially during this time. Try your best to let any rude or insensitive comments bounce off you. Seek out the support of other stepmothers who know exactly how you feel and who will not judge you for it.

Focus on the things you are grateful for

Consciously shift your focus to the positives rather than the negatives in your family life. I know all too well that it is not easy building the relationship with your stepchildren and that we are all in different stages of the journey. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the things that are not working. Dwelling on these things reflects negatively in your own personal mood as well how you relate with your partner and the children. Instead of marinating on these negative things, focus on what is good and working. Rejoice in every step that has been made in the right direction.

Whether this Mother’s day is a good or bad day, it is only one day in an entire year. Find something to be grateful for and let go of everything else. It is such a relief when you discover that you can be happy even if every aspect of your life is not all fine and dandy.

Spend the holiday with your mother

Instead of forcing on a celebration with your stepchildren, why not spend the time with your mother? Try to make it special for her. You will be surprised how great you will feel when you focus your energy on her instead of yourself. This works for a lot of other stepmothers who choose to spend the holiday with their mothers or with women for whom they care for deeply. Treat yourselves to a massage, brunch with friends or whatever it is that you two will enjoy. By doing so you are actually taking the pressure off yourself and taking control of your own happiness.

I hope this can help you and other stepmothers have a more enjoyable Mother’s Day.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

5 Types of bio moms every stepmom has to deal with

Every stepmom has a bio mom she has to deal with whether she is alive and kicking or she is deceased. They still influence her family life. It’s therefore important for a stepmom to know who this biological mother is, her strengths and weaknesses and since not all biological moms are the same, this helps bring perspective to the relationships within the family as well as parenting aspects which is now shared. Here are 5 types of biological mothers that stepmothers may find themselves having to cope with and how they can rise above the challenges, each one of them presents.

The Open One
This is the kind of bio mom that every stepmother wishes she had to deal with. She is secure and confident in her role as the mother and knows despite the current family situation her children will always have a very special place in their heart and no one can change that. She has dealt with any pain and issues surrounding the divorce or separation between her and her ex who is now your husband, has accepted the situation and doesn’t try to live in the past. She understands that working with you is in the best interest of the kids. She prays that you are a good and positive influence on her children, that you will be able to get along and that they can grow to love you.
This is a one of a kind mom and her spirit helps everyone else find it easy to let you in. If you have one of these in your life you need to be grateful.

The ‘mke nyumbani’ super mom
This is the perfect mother. She cooks, she cleans, she sews and no I am not talking about buttons, she teaches Sunday school, she in the school PTA, bakes her own bread, heck! this woman can go head to head with Martha Stewart with a good chance of winning. Now if you are the kind of stepmom who can’t do any of these things to save your life she can intimidate the hell out of you. It’s only natural to feel the need to compete with this mom. Prove that you can be just as good if not better, even when she is deceased. Many women find themselves competing with ghosts of the former wife which is a battle lost before it even began.

Resist the urge to become like the super mom and let no one pressure you into becoming something that you are not. We all have things that we are good at and those that we are terrible at. Focus on what you can do well and incorporate these in your relationship with your new partner and step kids. Be you, and let people love you just as you are.

The Mighty Protector
All mothers have a natural maternal instinct to protect their children but this one has taken this a couple of notches higher. She feels the need to protect her children from her former spouse and from you the stepmom. Usually this is a reaction from the fear that you will interfere with her role as mom. Signs of an overly protective mother include change or total cancellation of visitation rights thus limiting the contact between you and her children. She may even sabotage your relationship with the children or even your partner by badmouthing you in front of the kids, your partner and even straight up in your face.

For this kind of mother, its important for the stepmom to communicate verbally and through her actions the “No Threat message” To learn how to do this skillfully read my past blog post Meet your Ex-in-Law:Part 2 dealing with the challenges

The Smother Mom
Her entire identity stems from being a mother and this in turn compels her to make herself the center of every single facet of their children’s lives. This mother has trouble cutting the apron strings and smother their children with parental affection and authority. She is controlling and needs to be needed by her children. She may appear to be involved and cooperative when it comes to shared parenting tasks but she is actually just passive aggressive. Not all children may agree to her style but at least one will. This is the kind of child who will not accept you openly because this screams betrayal to their mother so keep your eyes peeled for this one. Don’t take it personally if you notice this with your stepchildren, its not a rejection of you as a person.

The Stone cold mom
There is no winning with this one. She completely ignores you and lives like you do not exist. She will not communicate with you in any way neither will she be willing to work with you. The best way to deal with her is to distance yourself with respect. Should the children talk ab
out their mother or the other home, listen and do not criticize or condemn her even if you may not agree with her strategy or parenting style. Always remember that blood is thicker than water and accept that your spouse will be the communication link between your family and the other home.

Whether you are a stepmom or a bio mom remember that its not a competition and a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T goes a long way.

 

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!

From Single to Married with Kids… Understanding your not so enthusiastic stepchildren

Children are at the very center of any new blended family. They tend to get forgotten because the couple is so in love, optimistic and ready to start the new life with their new partner. It’s important to always remember that all step-families are born out of loss. The new couple lost a husband/wife and the children have lost either mom and dad through separation, divorce or death. It is difficult for the children to deal especially since all children have an innate need to have their parents together regardless of their age. The truth is children are usually many steps behind when it comes to dealing with the loss of one or both parents and therefore it takes a lot of time to adjust to having a new parent; the step-mom or step-dad in their life.

Not all children adjust at the same time. It’s not surprising to find that one child warms up to the step-parent faster than his/her siblings. Other factors that affect this period of adjustment and new family formation include the ages, stages and sex of the children. Its key to always remember that all children need loving and trusting relationships and it is up to biological parents to reassure them of this through words but most importantly through their actions as well.

Here are some things to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. This will help you understand your child and their behavior toward the stepparent enabling both of you to respond and react in a manner that will foster good relationships for everyone.

What to expect by gender:

Girls will often be uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from a stepfather. Therefore do not take offence as a stepparent. It’s not a rejection of you as a person. As the mother do not push your child to hug or make other physical gestures that they are uncomfortable with. With time they may come around to doing it but it’s also possible that they never do. Do not take it personally.

Both girls and boys prefer verbal affection such as compliments to physical affection like hugs and kisses. Try and stick to this. The children will generally guide you so go with their pace for example, if you try to hug them and they pull away, then that’s a sign that you are not there yet so avoid it. If you tell them “I love you” and they are silent again know that your relationship with them has not got to that level yet. When they are comfortable with it they will let you know, through their actions.

Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do.

What to expect by age

Children Under 10:

At this age children are usually very open and tend to be more accepting of new adults. Usually easier to for a stepparent to form a relationship with. They may also adjust more easily to the new family setting because they usually have a strong desire for a complete family. At the same time they are prone to competing for their parents love, affection and attention. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this. This works to your advantage since the children slowly stop viewing you as the threat, the person who is stealing mummy or daddy.

Being younger of course means that the have more every day needs and therefore will require attention of the biological parent.

Kids between 10 and 14 years:

Children in this age group have the most difficulty adjusting to step-family. This is because they already have a strong relationship with their biological parents. They also had a great deal of family history before the parents split. This means that they require more time to get over the loss and additional time to bond before they can start accepting step-parent and getting in line with the new family norms. They also take longer to adjust to the stepparent being a disciplinarian so slow down on this one, let their mum and dad take the lead on this.

At this age children will not openly demonstrate feelings yet they will also be the more sensitive ones compared to younger children. They need more love, support, and attention than younger kids so it’s up to dad and mom to constantly reassure them of their unwavering love and support despite the new family arrangements.

As a stepparent be patient, and don’t push them. Slowly work on forming and building a relationship with them.

Teens

They are just discovering themselves and usually slowly move away from family life. Their involvement becomes less and less as they try to form their own identity. It tends to be more difficult to form a relationship with them as a step-parent so please be patient. Try to find things you have in common that you can do together. They also need to know and feel loved, they need to be secure even though they will not openly express it. Reassure them as you would younger children

Adult children

Contrary to popular belief, they do not understand the new family arrangements and share the same issues as younger children.  They feel betrayed by a parent’s decision to remarry, they too desire to have their parents together. If they are in the same age bracket it makes it even harder to accept the stepparent. They may hate seeing displays of affection between their bio parent and the stepparent. Pressure from the bio parent to accept their new love is also difficult to cope with.

Having been in the family for so long, letting go of the family history is extremely difficult. Since they have moved out of the nest, with their own careers and maybe even their own family life makes it difficult for the stepparent to establish a relationship since there is no day-to-day interaction. Other factors that come into play are inheritance.

The best thing to do is to give them time as well to adjust the new situations. Being adults also means that they have the capability to step up and proactively work on establishing a relationship with a stepparent. The biological parent should explain their actions, why they love and need their partner and request their child to understand and respect their decision. After all they are human too. And just like all human beings they need a companion, love and happiness.

I hope this has helped you gain some insight as why children may act a certain way when a stepparent comes into the picture and how you can respond and act or help your partner and children reduce the friction during the transition.

I would love to hear from you, your experience, what you would love to see me write about, questions and comments. Write to me wendy@livinginstepafrica.com

Have a great week!

 

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!