Hindsight Hiccups (Things I've Learned, Part 1)
Over the past 16 years of living in stepfamily dynamics, I've certainly learned some things the hard way!
Sure, hindsight is a great way to learn from our mistakes, but it can be frustrating…that old saying: "If I only knew then what I know now"! Well, I'd like to share my top three "Hindsight Hiccups"…those things I wish I'd known early on that might have made our journey a little smoother.
1. Avoidance doesn't solve problems.
The common issues that stepfamilies face don't usually go away…they tend to escalate and may lead to anger, resentment, conflict, isolation and stress when they aren't addressed. After years of avoiding some painful realities in our stepfamily journey, we finally learned that working as a team to be intentional, strategic, and proactive was the best way to handle emerging issues (big & small).
Bottom Line: It's important for step-couples to confront reality and work through painful issues early on rather than deny their existence and hope they go away...they won't!
2. Expect circumstances to change and embrace your "new normal".
I sure wish I'd been more emotionally prepared for the ups and downs of stepfamily life. Looking back now, it seems inevitable: kids hit a variety of developmental stages and are easily influenced…they change! Ex-spouses (and their new spouses) can be unpredictable and emotionally unstable…unexpected change! Circumstances shift - relational fall-out, births, deaths, relocations, life in general…and more change!
I've always considered myself an adaptable person, but when we faced parental alienation and extreme conflict with my ex (after ten years of peaceful co-parenting), I had a very difficult time adjusting to our 'new normal'. Due to my unrealistic expectations that nothing was going to change, I found myself clinging to the past and feeling emotionally paralyzed.
Bottom Line: Enjoy the stable seasons of stepfamily life, but don't be surprised or discouraged when your circumstances shift. Learn to accept unexpected changes and do your best to move forward in a positive way! (Remember to get help when you need it!)
3. Don't underestimate the loss your kid(s) may be experiencing...learn how to help them process.
My daughter was only 2-years-old when her dad and I divorced, so I didn't really think she was suffering from loss. As she grew, she began to understand her situation and had to face multiple changes (such as both parents remarrying and starting new families). She was sometimes sad and certainly confused about where she fit into this complex tapestry of multiple homes and relationships.
I'd bought into the belief that kids are emotionally sturdy and able to easily bounce back from loss and grief (by the way…this isn't true for most kids). Early on, I didn't take the time to learn how to support her emotionally in the way she needed. Instead, I often used distraction and attempted to paint a "silver lining" around her struggles. This seemed helpful at the time, but never really got to the heart of her issues or supported her in processing through difficult emotions.
Bottom Line: Kids need us to acknowledge their losses; to really listen, give genuine empathy and dialog with them in a healthy, productive way. Parents, we can learn these skills…a helpful resource is the book Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman, Ph.D. (To learn more, click here to check out another article.)
I've heard it said that experience is an effective teacher. After everything I've learned along the way, if I could give step couples one valuable piece of advice it would be this: Don't stop learning! There are so many challenges we face as stepfamilies. Those that are blatant and right in front of us, and those that are hidden that we can't see coming.
The Bottom, Bottom Line: You don't know what you don't know…so educate yourselves and be open to learning, growing and improving!
QUESTION: What steps you can take today to broaden your understanding of stepfamily dynamics and avoid the frustration of "hindsight hiccups"? Leave a comment below: