Moving on

Family

Your family may have changed but as the song goes,
'We are family!' No matter the size, no matter the shape.
Please scroll down for the article 'How to be a step-child'

Families come in all shapes and sizes and nowadays they may well be stretched over a wide area or you may be lucky enough to have relatives in your local area. No matter how you felt about relatives at the start of this journey, your attitudes have probably changed at this stage. We all need support and your family should be your first port of call. If your relationships have been suffering under the recent strain, now may be a good time to reach out once more and try again. We can only try. Many hurtful things may have been said in this process and not all may have been intended. Pick up the phone and say hello.

Children
If you have children, it is usually better for them to maintain links with both sides of the family. Tempers may have been strained, but emotions may be calmer now. Grandparents and children can suffer dreadfully if contact is broken. Families may have taken sides in the heat of the moment but now everyone may be willing to consider what is good for the children. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents are all part of your child's make-up and sense of self-worth. If you have lost contact with your child, now may be the right time to try again. Communication with the other parent could be a good starting point - a letter, a phone call or a message via a friend or relative. Perhaps an apology? If finances are at the root of this problem, is there anything that you could do to instil some confidence into your ex-spouse? Any little extra money or gift with no ties could bring its own rewards as you start to trust each other again. Communication, as always, is the only way to go.

Have you obstructed contact?
If, on the other hand, you have obstructed contact, it could now be time to back down and start talking again. What is best for the child? He may be saying what you want to hear but you should know in your heart what he is really saying. You may not have read our Children/Teens/Parents sections. There is a site included for children, a large one for teenagers as well as articles for adults. Have a look and try to see things through the eyes of your child. There are many agencies to help in the Further help section including Parenting Plans.

I still love my kids
'I used to wake in the night with a nagging pain in my chest or was it my heart? How could I get close to my kids again? I had made mistakes but I still loved them and wanted to help. The first step I took was to say I was sorry to my ex and kids with no strings attached. It has taken a long time but now we are all talking again.' John W.

New relationships bring new joy but also new problems.
Here we hear from Jill Curtis, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist working in private practice in London. She is a frequent broadcaster on family matters and has written several books. Jill even has time to contribute to this site as well as running her own family site.

How to be a stepchild
Today I received an e-mail from a girl, I will call her 'Alison', who told me she was twelve years old and wanted to ask me a question. She went on to say: 'Daddy is going to marry someone else and he is taking me to meet her on Saturday. Please tell me what to do?'

A simple, direct question, but one which set me thinking. It made me wonder how many children there are who are thrust into the complicated arena of stepparents without any idea how to go about it. Or, indeed, what is expected of them.

Has this happened to you?
Look in any magazine, and on the internet, and you will find plenty of advice for parents and stepmothers and stepfathers. There are many organizations, forums for discussion, and conferences planned around the idea of step parenting. There are plenty of dos and dont's on offer for parents about how to 'deal' with stepchildren. And yet, you (if you are a child) may find you have been faced - sometimes without warning - with a parent's new boy or girl friend. They may even have been introduced, perhaps with a laugh, as "Your new 'mum' or 'dad'". Believe me; this happens more often than you might think.

Perhaps the grown-ups should put themselves in your shoes for a moment.
What do we all do when we don't know what is expected of us? What we do, especially when we are uncertain, is to look at the floor, fiddle with our hair, or answer in a monosyllabic way. All ways guaranteed to bring down the wrath of the adults. Perhaps you recognize this?

The difficulty for any child of divorce (and by 'child' I do mean 'adult' children too) is feeling torn between the two people they love most. If on one hand you see mum or dad radiantly happy with a new partner, and on the other a depressed distraught parent, then it is hardly surprising that you view the outsider as the cause of all the family problems. That may not, in fact, be so. But what are you to do? By pleasing one parent, you are likely to feel you are twisting the knife in the other.

A real crisis can occur when there is to be a wedding, just as in the e-mail I received: it had become crunch time for 'Alison'. How can it be that a twelve-year-old is so desperate to 'do the right thing' and that I am the only person she can ask? From speaking with many parents over the years, I would guess that 'Dad' is too busy setting up the meeting with his new partner to think just what it means for his daughter. And 'Mum' is the last person to give advice on step parenting 'etiquette', so 'Alison' is left wondering just what to do, and say, on Saturday.

Introducing a new partner?
If you are a parent reading this article, and planning to introduce your children, try to remember that you have had time to know and to grow to love your new partner. Your child will have a very different perspective, and will need time to form a view of his or her own. So, too, will your new partner, who may be scared to death about meeting your child. If you are planning a wedding be extra sensitive to your children's feelings, even in the midst of planning a celebration. They may not feel like celebrating.

So are their any guidelines on 'How to be a stepchild'?
If you are old enough to be reading this article you should be aware that you mustn't be rushed into a step-relationship. This may, or may not, happen. Try to get to know your mum or dad's new friend as you would any new person in your life. Then you can decide whether you like them as a person, or not. Accept that by recognizing this new 'someone', you are not necessarily giving the union your blessing. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but one reason for apprehension and antagonism is often because hopes that your parents will get together again, will be finally dashed. Whether you can allow your parents new partners to become loving members of your family - well, only time will tell.

So, to all the 'Alisons', remember nothing you can do can repair the fact that your parents have divorced. If one of them is to re-marry wait and make up your own mind in your own time. So, you don't have to 'do' anything on Saturday. Just be yourself, no more, no less. No one can ask more of you.

And, here is the good news, there is a space for you on this site, so don't feel alone. There is always someone there to listen and to help you over the difficulties of 'being a stepchild.' Jill Curtis

We highly recommend Jill's latest book, 'How to Get Married...Again' which discusses the above subject as well as planning for the future and remarriage. Please check out our Books section for details. Thanks again Jill for your valued contribution and support.

Good book
Have a look at Relate Guide To Step Families: Living Successfully with Other People's Children (Relate Guides) [Paperback

The National Stepfamily Association
Tel: 020 7209 2460 or 0990 168 388 for the counselling line.
Whatever your problem, you will find a sympathetic ear and support.

For older parents
Check out Age Concern or phone free on 0800 009966

A book is available for older women called " Separation and Divorce" (ISBN086242173X) by Tobe Aleksander. Special price 3.95 , as some of the details may be out of date but still contains good advice. Available second hand via Amazon.

Also check out Help The Aged Their free help and advice line is 0800 269626 There are many good links to both sites.



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