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Blended Families – The "L" Family and Its Lessons
To encourage healthy interactions with adoptive families, I share experiences from my practice. As always in professional writing, the identifying elements have changed. The following stories weave together the challenges of adoptive families into narrative-based lessons. I start with the story from the meeting of a couple, to the moment of a radical change in their lives. Lucille, a nurse, and Larry, an accountant, both in their 30s, came to see me. Initially Lucille was single, while Larry was divorced with a 5-year-old son, Louis. Larry was the full-time parent to Louis, whose mother had recently come out as a lesbian and then left the two of them.
Larry was studying for his CPA exam when he met Lucille, spending as much time as possible with Louis, even putting off phone calls and dishes until the boy was asleep. When Larry met Lucille, he continued to prioritize parenting his son and did not bring Lucille home until their relationship was well established. Lucille was very fond of Louis, and the two adults worked to repair the damage caused by the first wife’s difficult choices.
Soon things changed drastically: Larry went to work, working long hours to climb the career ladder. Lucille was unhappy with her job and retired when Larry had a good income. This left Lucille as Louis’ full-time parent.
At first she relished the role, preparing healthy school lunches and cooking fancy dinners, volunteering as a room mother at Louis’ private school and even starting a local mom’s group. The two moved into an upscale apartment in a fancy area of town, and Lucille grew frustrated with Louis as she tried to keep the place tidy and upscale, and he dragged in the dirt and dropped crumbs seemingly everywhere he went.
This move added time to Larry’s commute, and as Larry became more successful, leaving work later and later, Lucille began to resent the coordination, the complaining notes from teachers, the constant disruption to her schedule because she had to he was home at 4:00. to meet Louis. She became increasingly irritable with Louis and informed Larry of her frustration with the child via email at work and when she got home at night. She accused him of making Louis self-centered, putting off chores until he went to bed. Louis’ mother, far less well off than Larry and Lucille, stopped child support, leading to further feelings of resentment and aggravation.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, Lucille became pregnant.
The pregnancy certainly didn’t improve things between Lucille and her stepson. It’s becoming more. frustrated with him, insisting his father put him in after-school programs and find someone to take over her extensive carpooling duties.
The crisis happened the night before Louis’ spring break, Louis was throwing a ball – as he had been told so many times not to do – and, reaching for it, tripped over Lily’s baby seat, sending both children to spread out and hum. .
When Larry got home, Lucille told her husband in no uncertain terms what was going to happen now. Larry took his son to work every day of the holiday, as he had no intention of having Louis around, bothering and bothering, every day all day for a week.
Now, let’s try to take a step back and think about how to avoid this scenario in the first place. Some of these considerations are based on How to Earn as a Step-Family by Emily and John Visher. So, some lessons for the adoptive parent:
Don’t make too loud, overwhelming stepchildren, and don’t set expectations you can’t meet. Hold back and let your stepchildren come to you.
Recognize that the relationship between you and your stepchildren is just forming. If you tell them you love them right away, they often won’t believe you and may discredit other things you say.
Remember that adopted children will be different from the children you raise. If you try to mold them into the image of your children, it will prevent you from developing a good relationship with them. Household rules simply cannot make a person take on a new form. Often stepchildren eventually absorb some of the new patterns you want them to adapt — but at their own speed.
Find out what things your stepchildren like and try to make them available, e.g. a basketball net or a favorite drink.
Do things with stepchildren on your own, without their parent – something you enjoy and are both good at.
It’s just a fact that you will feel differently about your stepchildren than you do about your own children. And your stepchildren will feel differently about you than they did about their parents. Time can create a very special relationship if you accept that feelings are different at first and simply cannot be forced.
Likewise, accept that your reactions to your own child and your spouse’s reactions to your “beloved 6-year-old” will be different. Support your spouse as they begin to relate to your children.
Avoid areas that are bet by the child’s own parent. If your stepson says, “Daddy says he’s going to teach me to sail,” don’t run to the nearest shipyard.
Sometimes it may take until adulthood for stepchildren to realize the care and special qualities of the stepparent. Be patient.
Do not make fun of or criticize the other biological parent. That parent is, not just chromosomally, half the child, so you are really attacking the child. Keep information about the parent’s love life and financial situation away from the child until the parent tells them.
Don’t try to win over your foster child through bribery — gifts, special outings, etc. — if your home is more financially comfortable than the other parent’s home. This can backfire as children can identify with the underdog.
Avoid the ‘romantic marriage antidote fantasy’: My significant other’s first wife/husband was so bad, our new marriage will cure everything.”
And finally, discipline. Now there is a difficult one. But for the first 18-24 months of marriage, view your interaction with your stepchildren as that of a camp counselor with his or her camper. Be there for their safety — but not necessarily for enforcement. Only after the marriage is stable and you have come to know your stepchildren as people—as they have come to understand you—should you take an active role in disciplining them.
If you can follow some of these tips, you’re well on your way to making the “mine” and “yours” inherent in newlyweds with children into a complete and well-rounded “ours.”
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