Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blended Trials: Feelings and Validation

Our 10 year old, Cory, is one of the most sensitive kids you will ever meet. He has the biggest heart, and thinks more about other people than he does about himself. He loves like you will never experience in your life if you don't know him. His wife is going to be one lucky lady.

When I share these stories about trials of blending a family it's so that you know that we are normal. We are not some fantastic, perfect family. Our blended family journey is just what it should be.

A few months ago, Cory was having a hard time. We had him seeing a therapist for a while (at his request), and then he decided he didn't want to see the therapist anymore. Cory told Justin, "I want you to be my therapist." We were actually thrilled about this, because we would rather have our kids talk to us than some stranger.

During one of his "sessions" with his dad (Justin and Cory lying on the couch together - no client on the couch, shrink in a chair with this therapist!) Cory admitted to Justin that he never wanted us to get married. I wasn't around during this conversation, but Justin told me about it later. 

The next day we went out to eat as a family and Cory asked me if Justin had told me about what he said. I confirmed that Justin and I had talked about it and I said, "Cory, I understand why you would feel that way, and I am totally okay with you feeling that way. In fact, you could have told me that to my face and I would still be okay with it." I wanted Cory to know that I understand how he's feeling, and I am not offended that he doesn't want me to marry his dad. I didn't take it personally. Cory always wanted his mom and dad to get back together, and I know that me marrying his dad completely trashed that dream. That can be devastating for a kid.

When dealing with kids in blended a family, don't take anything personally, and be your kids' best therapist. We don't allow name calling or yelling or hitting or saying mean things to people, but calmly saying something like, "I never wanted you and my dad to get married" isn't dangerous to anyone. It's a true admission of feelings, and a very mature thing to do. We definitely praise those kinds of things coming from our kids. As your child's therapist your number one responsibility is to listen. Kids who are dealing with things like divorce and remarriage are going to have a lot of confusing things going on in their heads. Listen. Resist the urge to correct, lecture, or respond in any way other than validation. Afterwards your child might be open to some advice or counsel, but give it carefully, and stop if things start going awry.

When a child misbehaves due to strong emotions, validate the emotion, then deal with the behavior. When our kids have outbursts of anger or emotion, we try to validate the emotion, then deal with the behavior. "You must really miss your mom. But it's not appropriate to throw a fit and scream and kick." We are starting to get a lot more calm, although emotional, responses from our kids. Tear-filled statements such as "I wish I could go to my mom's house" and "Sometimes it's hard to have so many brothers and sisters" are becoming at least as common as the tantrums, fights, and melt downs.

Pride is the step-parent's enemy. Well, pride is everyone's enemy. But it is especially detrimental in blended families. If you want to have a good relationship with a step child the best way to do it is to throw your pride right out the window. When Justin gets home from work, Joseline and Vincente barely glance up from what they are doing to say hi, while Cory and Ryan (and sometimes Bailey) run to meet him from wherever they are in the house. Justin does a really good job of not taking that personally, even though I know it hurts him. And the kids are learning to be at least cordial and greeting people when they come home. It's easy to take everything personally and think that your step kids hate you, or at the very least, don't care for you. But it takes time to build relationships, and the more you let your pride get in the way of that, the worse it will be for your relationships.

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