The Doctor is In: Cynthia D. Rudick, Ph.D.

18 11 2008

Guest blogger Cynthia D. Rudick, Ph.D., has been counseling stepfamilies in her private practice for 20 years. She’s a professional mediator and arbitrator in Canton, Ohio, who is also an adjunct professor in graduate counseling programs. For the past 16 years she’s been stepmother of two, now ages 23 and 28. She lives with her husband and two yellow labs. Contact her at 330-492-2941 or email her.

Bonding or Bondage in Stepfamilies: The Choice is Yours
One of the hardest challenges for stepmothers and women in general is to balance their needs with everyone else’s. We are taught from birth to care for others and feel guilty if we think about ourselves. Raising children is a full-time commitment. Raising stepchildren is an overtime commitment. The challenges are huge, the rewards are not immediate, and the conflict can be intense.

Perhaps the most difficult time to enter a child’s life is during their teens. If we are a good parent, we have a need to connect and nurture. Yet this child is experiencing a need to separate, a need to resist what is and find out who he or she is. Developmentally, we are on two different planets. Many battles and deep wounds can follow.

One of the only ways I can justify the slings and arrows of life is to be aware of my transcendent purpose. What I mean is to think about the lessons in this experience that are personal and dynamic for me in a spiritual sense.

Our expectations keep us in resistance to situations we encounter in the reality of our lives. Reality is occurring, but we think it should be different. Our peace of mind or lack of it is measured in the space between reality and our expectations.

Stepmothers are idealistic people. We believe we can create a family where there was already one. Idealistic people have a big space between their expectations and reality. Pain is the result of the distance we feel in the space between how things are and how things should be. We need to work on our growth as individuals instead of trying to get someone else to change.

Our childhoods mark us and we have ideas of ourselves formed early in life – what kind of person we have to be, how we think life should be, how we think others should be. We need to work on our core issues and our own growth if we are to stay married. Women who have done this deep work have developed good relationships over time with their stepchildren. I define a good relationship as an honest one. And we cannot be any clearer with others than we are with ourselves.

 Again, it takes so much time to form a family where there already was one. For example, women often enter a family and then things hit the fan when the stepchild becomes a teenager. The child resists the rules in the stepmother and dad’s home because the birth mother requires no rules. Thus, chaos ensues. The child threatens to go live with their mother. Stepmothers need to hold to the high ground and not be deterred by terrorist threats.

Setting an Example is the High Road
I think we model who we are and how we live by example. This is a much more powerful message than all the words we use. Later in life, when the immature teenager develops beyond the lacks of the birth parent they are tied to, they will understand the guard rail you tried to provide for them. Be proud of your mission here. It may be singular but it is a powerful assignment. Children need to learn these living skills from you even though they may offer extreme resistance.

Model Your Own Virtue in the Face of Powerlessness
Again, it is not so much what we say but who we are that provides such a powerful model for others. Believe in yourself. Teach by example. Yelling and fighting just increase your lack of power. In fact, the louder you yell, the more powerless you feel, and vice versa.

Patience is a Virtue in the Face of Powerlessness
Sometimes our timing is off. We want things to happen now. We want things to change now. These patterns in ourselves and others are firmly planted and it takes time and energy to shake them up.

Don’t Take It Personally Even Though It May Be Hurtful
It takes a long time to build trust. Stepchildren have been hurt by broken relationships and promises. Sometimes the person they lash out at is us – because we are there and we are safe. This is a very backhanded compliment. Behavior can be hurtful, even though it is not personal. Try to find a way to process your feelings. Try to find a method to detach from others’ projections when you have done little to cause the anger. Talk to yourself. Talk to others. Take a walk. Scream. Cry.

Journal, Journal, Journal
One of the safest most private ways to vent emotions is on the pages of a journal. This is a great tool for healing. Also, with enough unexpurgated, unedited journal writing, you will begin to see patterns in your life that you need to change.

Do Some Deep Core Work
Do some mining into your inner recesses with a trained professional. There’s a stigma about going to therapy. I see myself as a coach. We are Americans and we want a quick fix. But to really change, we need to work in the deep end of the pool. Some self-help programs and books only put “whipped cream on poop” and the original problems still smell. I encourage you to do the deep work necessary on your inner life. We change from the inside out. It will pay off in the end. And you are worth it.

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Stepmoms Speak

12 11 2008

Christina Hines is the author of Navigational Skills for Stepfamilies. The following is an excerpt from her book. Used with permission.

Lack of Awareness

When we navigate without awareness, we still remember the “Wicked” Stepmother in our Cinderella stories. We live inside the lingo, the language of “Broken Homes” and “Step” and everyone suffers on all levels. “Broken” takes on a tone as If there is something fundamentally wrong that will always be fundamentally wrong. Step has a tone as if someone is stepping on someone else’s toes or property, as if by stepping “in and on” you are doing something morally illegal.

Inside of this broken stepping on toes limited thinking…. 

We teach our children that love has conditions. “You are free to love everyone! Except the woman who now lives with your father.”

We provide our children with “Disney Land” weekends to ease the guilt we feel inside of us for not being there in the day-to-day.

We get divorced and cling fiercely to making sure our children experience “family traditions” only we don’t stop to understand what we are really doing to them.

Let’s see how this works. We tell our children “Get dressed, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, put your jacket on – you are going to Dad’s for three hours to have his tradition. Next, while you are in mid-play, you will need to put your jacket back on, come back home, we’ll drive to grandma’s and have our tradition (notice, at Dad’s you had HIS tradition but when you are with me, you are having “Our” tradition.) Take your jacket off and then mid-play, you will need to put your jacket back on. Next; we will get back in the car, drive to our house. Take off your jacket it’s time for bed! Now wasn’t that fun?

Children literally spend half of the day in the car. A quarter of the day taking their jackets off and putting their jackets back on.  A quarter of the day just digging into a wonderful play experience only to have it cut short once again.

Family traditions start to take on a tone of hurry up, let’s go, wasn’t that fun and we do this for your sake. Children’s little heads spin. They can’t remember whom they are playing with and everything feels to the child like there isn’t enough time. We literally teach our children how to not focus fully. We teach our children how not to experience something fully and then we label and medicate them when they can’t seem to focus.

More of what’s Inside of this broken stepping on toes limited thinking…

We send them over to the other parent’s house exclaiming “Oh I will miss you so much while you are gone,” and then the child spends half the time at the other parent’s house worrying about how lonely and upset the other parent is with visions of the “missing” parent crying missing them so much and unable to enjoy their time fully because they are too busy worrying about the other parent’s experience. We teach our children to always feel like something is missing.

We get out of one relationship to get right back into the “same” relationship with someone else or we go for someone completely different and spend all our time comparing, complaining and “pining” for what we no longer have when we didn’t enjoy what we had when we had it. Never fully enjoying our present moments.

We watch a child grow and develop and we have reverence for the process yet we have no tolerance and lack reverence, time or patience for the emotional evolutionary process of growth and development that needs to happen inside of marriages or inside of divorces or our remarriages.

We treat our children like partners and our partners like children.

We ignore our pain, bury it, pretend it doesn’t exist and we hide behind children using them as an excuse on why we can’t move on or worse, we use them like bait on a fishing rod to attract a potential parent for them verses trying to attract a partner for us who will eventually be a good stepparent.

We set our new relationships up to be stressful and chaotic because we didn’t take the time to process our emotions and then we get mad at our new partner for expecting us to be fully present to them.

We expect our new partners to love and accept our children and us unconditionally while we don’t accept and love them unconditionally.

We set the stepparent up by sabotaging their relationship with our children by bending the rules when the stepparent isn’t home or by blatantly coming out and saying, “I don’t mind but your stepmother is on my back.”

We set our children up to feel abandoned and to resent the person who does what we do for our children – by allowing our children to sleep in bed with us at night and then “kicking” them out when an adult comes into the picture.

We blame the “other” parent when our children lie, manipulate or act out on our time with the children. We say the children are doing that because of who the other parent is and oh what a great parent we are.

 We blame the stepparent for pointing out our children’s behaviors and focus on the stepparent instead of focusing on parenting our children 

Women walk around comparing themselves to each other while competing for who’s better, prettier, has a better body, looks younger, makes more money, has a better house. As if a child cares about any of those things. (Who is that really about?)

Men are so confused, not knowing who to listen to, the biological mother or the stepmother. Knowing perfectly well that he’s completely screwed either way, lying to each woman causing more problems for themselves crying, “Women are crazy people!”

We haven’t learned to “play nice” inside of our adult relationships while we tell our children to “play nice” with others. Or, we no longer care about teaching our children how to play nice, we would rather they think of only themselves. We haven’t learned to share the joys of child rearing while we tell our child to share or, we tell our children that they don’t have to share. We haven’t learned to respect each other while we tell children to respect others or, we don’t care if our children respect others and enjoy our children’s ability to be fully self expressed to the point of pure rudeness. We play a lot of ego oriented superficial games and waste our time and life energy on things that do not matter and have absolutely nothing to do with our children.

With all or half of this going on inside of the lives of stepfamilies, it’s easy to see why there is so much stress involved. Most of it has nothing to do with being a parent or having a child. Children are not the problem at all. Most of it has to do with our inability to navigate the issues that belong to us.

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