Guest Author - Terrie Andrade
Many stepmothers, after a brief bout with a difficult child, withdraw and take on the position of “your kid, your problem”. I’ve heard that it actually seems to work for the parent in conflict. But I am skeptical of the long-term success.
First, it is a “divisive” tactic applied to what is intended to be a unified relationship. Most of us marry to share a life that was previously lived solo. Typically we combine our possessions, finances and plans for the future because we love each other and… we are inherently optimistic creatures. We each bring experience, ideas and attributes to enhance and strengthen this newly woven cord. Unless you agreed at the outset that you would not participate in the parental roles in your household, it is not only counterproductive, but self-serving to take that stance due to discomfort or frustration. At first glance, it may appear to be the path of least resistance but it draws a line in the sand and the message is clearly one of a family divided.
Secondly, retreat can easily be construed as a major victory by the child. Even if it wasn’t the intended outcome, suddenly one half of the enforcement unit has been defeated. Inappropriate behavior has not only been reinforced, it has been rewarded. The youngest of children will identify this cause and effect and quickly add it to their skill set.
Lastly, and as important, is the setting of a poor example. A wise adage tells us that “more is caught than taught”. Our words, no matter how intelligent or eloquent will never have a greater impact on our children than our actions. Walking away; giving up or withdrawing our presence and affiliation in the face of adversity will tacitly authorize children to find a similar escape when the going gets tough.
This is not the place for marital advice or counseling; however, in a discussion about the successful blending of families, it is impossible to not mention the significance and value of a solid, respectful oneness with our mate. Each member of a new household brings their own fears and uncertainties. It is almost guaranteed to be awkward. Even children whose life circumstances are vastly improved can find the transition takes them out of their comfort zone. They are reminded that they are not in control of their own lives, and being thrust into an unfamiliar situation may cause old wounds to resurface. One dictionary definition of "family" describes a social unit consisting of two adults and their children; a group. When I think of family I envision so much more. I want so much more. I believe most women do. Adults who are able to cope maturely with the issues and circumstances of life provide the structure in which children will grow. An environment of love and respect will construct the foundation. I submit to you that these are critical elements for turning the members of a group into a family.