parenting

Interview with a Stepparent...

No, I couldn't find a vampire who was also a stepparent. So I decided to interview a real, live one. This interview is important so that others can understand the experience of what is is like to co-parent as a stepparent and maybe feel less alone, find some parallels through other people's experiences, and maybe figure out how to improve their own parenting situation. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kenni J. from Florida. She is a soldier, wife, and mom to 3 kids, two of them being her stepchildren. 

Lotus Therapies|Interview with a stepparent|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

What is the biggest struggle when adjusting to being a step parent?

                The largest struggle is learning to be an additional co-parent. Loving a child is easy, as children, especially young children, tend to offer unconditional love to anyone they feel deserving. The most difficult aspect is proving yourself to the other parent. Adults tend to still have residual emotions following a divorce and may inherently dislike their former spouses' new partner for any numerous of reasons, which may place an additional strain on your current marriage. As a step parent, you must accept that you cannot coerce the other parent to be receptive and approve of you. The other parent must decide to accept the step parent on their own volition and the reality is that the other parent may never accept the step parent.

How has stepparenting altered your view as a parent to your biological kid?

                For quite some time I was unsure if I was capable of having children. Therefore, I have loved my stepchildren as my own. I have always considered my stepson as my first child as I was a part of his life since he was a toddler. When I was blessed to have a child of my own my perspective remained the same and I still want the best for all of my children.

What would you change about challenges?

                In hindsight, the other parent in my relationship is simply unwilling to have a relationship with me therefore any changes to previous interactions would be futile. If you are dealing with a reasonable other parent, whom is not consumed by emotions, I would recommend being polite, making an introduction, and simply being respectful to the other parent. It is not necessary for you and the other parent to be the best of friends, but it is important to be cordial, especially in front of the children. If you are dealing with the spawn of Satan, simply do not engage. All interactions will be viewed as hostile and disrespectful regardless of the intent.

What is the ideal picture of your blended family?

                Ideally, my spouse and the other spouse would have a workable parenting plan that involves very little communication between the two of them. They currently have a toxic relationship that is basically unsalvageable. The best thing for all of us would be an exceptionally detailed parenting plan that allows both families to function with limited interaction. At this point, any interaction typically leads to a full-blown argument between the biological parents and exacerbates stress within the family.

Advice for step parents?

                Be prepared to be a flexible and understanding spouse. Understand that your stepchildren may not accept you or like you for quite some time. Do not attempt to “win over” the other parent with overt gestures of kindness as this will be perceived as you being disingenuous. Introduce yourself to the other parent, be respectful, and do not discipline your stepchildren without the presence of your spouse. Be aware that all of your interactions, both good and particularly bad, will be shared with the other parent. Don’t create more tension in the relationship by causing strain on the parent-child relationship.

Information like this is valuable in appreciating the difficulty of being a stepparent and seeing how you as coparent in this situation can make the experience more bearable and productive for all paries involved.

Including the Stepparent

Many separated or divorced parents make the decision to move on with their lives and seek meaningful relationships. When remarrying or deciding to be in a committed relationship, their partners take on a role of a stepparent.

Lotus Therapies|Stepparents|CoParenting|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

Being a stepparent can be very overwhelming, challenging, and rewarding. But when a stepparent isn't supported, included on respected they could feel like the odd man out and problems and resentment start to seep into your relationship. Being the odd man out for the stepparent can feel like they are on constant pins and needles with the kids and you as their partner because they are trying to find their place and their voice in your co-parenting situation.

Lotus Therapies|Stepparents|CoParenting|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

With the children, their needs, trying to manage the co-parenting relationship, and your own needs, the stepparent and their needs can unnoticeably take a backseat. Here are 3 tips to make sure that the stepparent feels connected and included.

Nurture Your Relationship

Stepparents need the reassurance that the co-parenting situation working for the betterment of the family unit and validation and recognition of their place in their household and in their spouse's life. Make time for each other when you can maintain your connection.Unity within the couple's relationship bridges the emotional gap between the stepparent and stepchildren and positions both adults to lead the family.

Lotus Therapies|Stepparents|CoParenting|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

 

Communicate! Then Communicate Some More.

Just as the lines of communication is imperative for co-parents, it is also important for stepparents and their partners. Rather than being silent in their resentment, stepparents should express their need to have their contributions recognized and acknowledged (Grace, Elizabeth, 2017).  Stepparents can find it hard to find their barrings and need to be able to talk with their partners on how they feel, how to address issues that come up with the children, and what their role looks like as a stepparent where everyone is feels validated and their needs are being met. 

 

Just a little Respect.

Respect is a big part of the foundation of any relationship. Just as your relationship took the time to grow and flourish it will take time for the stepparent and child to bond. Respecting the process, having discussions about the new family unit and how it will be managed is key to building a strong foundation. A stepparent will have their own views, values, and beliefs that they will bring to the relationship and those should be respected and acknowledged. But as parents and partners communication about how parenting, discipline, and co-parents should be handled will be ongoing and partners must come to an agreement they are comfortable with implementing in their daily lives. Another important aspect of respect is between the stepparent and the child. Both the child and the stepparent should show each other a level of respect. This is always best displayed rather than verbalized because children do as you do not as you say--usually. If a child feels safe with the stepparent and not pushed into a relationship with them respect comes a little bit easier. Stepparents also must display respect for the children and the other parent (your ex) by being considerate of boundaries, communicating with honesty, and helping to keep the peace.

Although step-parenting can be difficult it can also be rewarding and help to create loving connections. Stepparents should be acknowledged for their roles, heard, included in decisions and planning, and the marriage or romantic relationship should be nurtured to make sure that your relationship and family unit is solid. 

 

References:

Grace, Elizabeth (2017, May 27). Dealing with Feelings of Resentment as a Stepparent. Being a Stepparent. Retrieved from http://www.beingastepparent.co.uk/dealing-with-feelings-resentment-stepparent.html

Deal, Ron (2002). Stepparenting: It Takes Two. Focus on the Family. Retrieved from http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/single-blended-family-parenting/blended-families/stepparenting-it-takes-two

 

5 Important Things to Be A Stable Co-Parent

The reality of being a co-parent can be quite sobering but you can get through it if you focus on these 5 elements: Self-care, Level-Headed Support, Grieve Your Relationship, Make Home a Neutral Space, and Commit to Your Child's Happiness.

Lotus Therapies|Stable Co-parenting|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

Self-Care

It is important for parents in a co-parenting relationship to not only nurture their children but to also nurture themselves. Self-care is the maintenance of your physical, mental, and inner self. How you treat yourself will speak to how you will be able to cope with the transition of your co-parenting relationship and life transitions in general.  Terri DiMatteo, LPC  of Open Door Therapy suggests that while it may seem counter-intuitive for divorcing parents to focus on themselves while in the throes of divorce or transitioning during to being a co-parent, in truth it is actually one of the healthiest things a divorcing parent can model for his or her child. By doing so, a parent is ‘saying’ (by example and in lifestyle) that during times of heightened stress and uncertainty it’s especially important to take care of oneself when managing the additional stress.

Level-Headed Support

We all require connections with friends or family to be a support through trials of life. When maneuvering through your co-parenting transition, separation, or divorce you may seek comfort and advice from friends and family. But all advice isn't good advice even from people we love. Sometimes confiding in others can make the situation worse because the people we have chosen to confide in are also emotionally invested in your situation and they can't always be objective. Seek a professional if you are looking to work through emotions, thoughts, and getting a better understanding of how to move forward. 

Grieving Your Relationship

Although you want to make sure that your children are okay and provide them a healthy environment, it is important to grieve what you have lost. Whatever that loss is for you, (the relationship itself, loss of the family unit, loss of finances, your dreams connected to your ex-partner) healthy grieving will help you deal with the emotions related to that loss and adequate support will help you reorganize your life based on your learnings about your relationship, yourself, and your experiences. You will most likely develop new values and perspectives on life, and you will naturally begin to think of new horizons that you may never have thought about before. 

Home: A Neutral Space

Your relationship with your ex can be in a constant state of chaos but you should always commit to having a safe, neutral environment for you and your child. This means being accountable to maintaining that space by:

  • making sure you don't speak ill of the dead (the old relationship that is)
  • not using your child as a confidant
  • encouraging your child to foster a relationship with their parent if they are comfortable doing so
  • respecting the child's relationship and love for their other parent
  • when they go low you go high-refrain from arguments and all-around nastiness especially in front of the child.

Committing to Your Child's Happiness

Committing to you child's happiness is the ultimate goal of your co-parenting experience. Your sacrifices to maintain control of emotions and creating a neutral, safe space for them is what they will remember in the end. Pay attention to your child's ques regarding how they are handling the transition and seek additional support or help if they are having an especially hard time adjusting. Stay the course, because your character and actions DO matter...and because the children are always watching. The time, thoughts, patience, laughter, fun, and love that you share with your child will have the most meaning.

 

 

References:

1. Hart, Julie (2016, February 2). Grieving When Your Relationship Ends: The 3 Important Phases. The Hart Centre. Retrieved from http://thehartcentre.com.au/grieving-when-your-relationship-ends-the-3-important-phases/
2. University of Washington. (n.d). Healthy grieving. Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/counseling/resources/resources-for-students/healthy-grieving/
3.Philyaw, D.,Thomas, M.D. (2013) Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger. 

3 Co-Parenting Styles: Which Are You?

In Co-Parenting 101 by Deesha Philyaw and Michael Thomas, they created a simple explanation of 3 different types of coparenting styles. These styles are not based on how you parent your children but more about how you interact, communicate, cope, and coexist as coparents. Philyaw and Thomas define 3 different types of co-parenting styles as Super Friends, Business Partners, Oil and Water (I'm sure you can figure out what this one means). 

Lotus Therapies| Co-parenting Styles|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

Super Friends are "parents whose co-parenting relationship is characterized by low conflict, flexibility, easy communication, and congeniality."  

Super Friends Co-Parenting Style display:

  • open respect for each other
  • ongoing communication
  • low conflict
  • all interactions and demonstrations are motivated by the child's wellbeing

Although this is an ideal situation, parents must be aware of and maintain boundaries so that children won't confuse respect and kindness with the possibility of a reconciliation between their parents. With all the god intentions of having a super-friends parenting style it still does not address or shield children from being hurt by the divorce. It is best to always keep communication open for children to express ongoing feelings about the effects of the divorce.

Lotus Therapies| Co-parenting Styles|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

The business partners style is "characterized by the more formal interaction, strict adherence to schedules and written plans, and a basic civility." This is a "stick to the plan" style. These types of parents will have interactions that only that pertain to the parenting plan or keep to agreed upon schedules and they try to remain emotionally detached as it pertains to the other party.

Business Partners Co-Parenting Style display:

  • clear boundaries
  • emotions remain strictly in check
  • children's lives are not intertwined
  • minimum communication

The Business Partners style is useful for parents trying to get a specific message to and from the other parent without mudding the waters. This style can backfire and create a way for the child to manipulate or take advantage of minimum communication. 

Lotus Therapies| Co-parenting Styles|Cumming, GA|Lawrenceville, GA

Oil and Water coparenting style is defined as "a near and total breakdown of communication, high conflict, mistrust, and competitiveness." Just picture an all out nuclear war or a ticking time bomb.

Oil and Water Parents are:

  • a constant obstruction
  • verbal/physical altercation
  • unable to compromise
  • holding onto pain/anger/hurt from the unsuccessful relationship

An oil and water parent can be very reactive and find it very difficult to interact with each other. This is the most toxic of the three types of coparenting styles. It creates an atmosphere of inadequacy, insecurity, and fear for the child.

Creating a Positive Experience

In order to create a positive coprarenting experience, you have to decide to heal from the past and put your child first. Always strive to exhibit the behavior that you want for your relatipship as a coparent. Just because your ex is an oil and water parent doesn't mean you can't be a super friends parent.

Focus on:

  • always being positive
  • creating and maintain an open dialogue with your child 
  • always exhibiting kindness and refrain from getting sucked into arguments
  • LOVE on your kid-ESPECIALLY if you have a particularly shitty ex 
  • Be sure to create a safe space for your child
  • NOT talking shit about your EX around your child
  • Maintaining self-care, Love on yourself and Get help if you need it

Co-parenting can be rewarding and a positive experience. Having adequate support is crucial to having a successful co-parenting relationship. There are co-parenting groups like the one I provide, Quiet the Wars Co-parenting Group that are available to support parents through the transition of co-parenting by offering therapeutic support and referrals to legal professionals.

 

 

 

Philyaw, D.,Thomas, M.D. (2013) Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.