Blended families often have a tough time integrating, and I feel ours was no exception. The “trickle-down theory of happiness”1 was putting pressure on me. From my viewpoint, Mom was happy in her new marriage, and expected me to hop on board. But I had anger over the changes to our situation, and unfortunately, I stuffed that anger inside.
Unfairness was my primary source of frustration. I saw my stepfather as a rival for Mom’s attention and affection, which had already been in short supply since the divorce. In my childhood journal I wrote of a Valentine’s Day when I got her a balloon and he bought her a recliner, and how dejected I felt. I thought I had no chance against him, that I didn’t count as much as he did. I grew out of this thinking as an adult, but when I was young, those feelings were intense and very real. According to The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,
Girls…often enjoyed a close, privileged position with their mothers prior to the remarriage and resent the stepfather’s intrusion, fearing that they will lose access to their mother.2
In terms of shared responsibilities, I saw my stepfather more as a rival sibling than as an authority figure. To me it appeared that Mom pampered him like a young child who was unable to do his share. I already had a heavy load of responsibilities, and I didn’t appreciate bearing someone else’s workload. I don’t believe either of them intended to overload us. But these dynamics set up a storm of frustration and anger.
What I wanted was to be heard, to be respected and valued. When I shared my feelings or offered suggestions, I felt criticized and shut down. I think family meetings would have been helpful during that tough transition time. This is what I was looking for:
Many remarried families have found that regular family meetings to discuss various issues can be very helpful in clearing the air. They allow each person to be heard and then give the opportunity to set household rules and future plans firmly in place. It is very important for children to feel that they are being treated fairly.3 [emphasis mine]
Being a people-pleaser and peace-seeker, I turned my anger inward instead of lashing out. That passivity cost me dearly in my high school years, as I will write about in the next several posts.
I can’t change anything in my past. But I handle transitions with my own children in a different way. I affirm their frustrations, saying, “I know this is hard for you, and I see that you are frustrated.” If they make a suggestion, I consider if it’s worth trying. If I’ve made a mistake, I apologize. If I can’t offer them a different situation, I try to make other concessions. I try to be as understanding and supportive as I can be, and that’s all any parent can do.
If you are part of a blended family, how was the transition period for you? If it was difficult, how did you manage your emotions? Has it made you a better parent?
All quotations taken from The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee. New York: Hyperion, 2000.