If you have a stepchild or stepchildren who shuttle between mom and dad’s house on a regular basis, then you’re probably all too familiar with the complicated issues that can arise during these transitions.
Just because there’s an organized visitation schedule doesn’t mean all the people involved are consistently happy with it. It’s the nature of the beast. But this can be a killer struggle for stepparents who are often caught up in the mix.
In blended, co-parenting families where the set visitation schedule works smoothly and everyone is thriving where they need to be on any given day, life can feel neat and organized.
And then there are days when it can all seem like it’s crashing down in a huge, disastrous, failing mess.
There will be those days when your stepchild(ren) simply don’t want to go to mom or dad’s house or are just plain fed up with going back and forth. Easy to understand how they must feel, right?
As a stepmom, I dread days like this. Many of us stepparents bear the brunt of emotional, sullen moods from our stepchildren because they’re upset about their living situation and — quite honestly — it sucks.
I dread the sad eyes and the slow walk. I dread knowing the child I love is in pain because — ultimately— they just want their mom and dad to be together and are sick of “choosing”.
Even if mom and dad never even lived together or got married, this kind of emotional pull will undoubtedly happen to any child of parents who aren’t “together”.
It’s normal to want the two halves who created you to interact with and love each other. A child almost always wants to feel secure about who and where they came from.
Always remember that most likely this has nothing to do with how much your stepchild may adore you as a stepparent and never let it deter you from the hard work you’re putting in raising them.
There are oodles of articles on the internet about how to deal with the rough transition periods blended families go through trying to adhere to an often hectic schedule. There’s a reason why there are so many articles about this. It’s tough!
The visitations and transitions are indeed hard for the adults, but it’s especially rough on the children who have to constantly adjust to a different home and lifestyle.
In my own situation, I’m the one shuttling my stepchild to both homes on our scheduled days, week after week, year after year. I see the toll it takes and the loyalty binds that often tighten their grip on my stepchild.
I can say that I do my best to be positive, encouraging, and a soft shoulder to lean on. To be a non-judgmental, listening ear as well as keeping my personal opinions to myself at the same time is a stepmom dance I’ve probably only half mastered by now.
As a very involved stepmom who has a close relationship with my stepchild, it’s incredibly hard not to intervene and try to “fix” things for this child I love so dearly.
Some days I almost wish it wasn’t me who was there all the time to see the tears, frustration, and anger. Some days I want to run away from everyone, including mom and dad.
There are many days when I feel like a stepmom in the middle. On most days I can handle it well, with respect, diplomacy, and grace.
But sometimes I get caught up in those unfortunate storms that pass through blended families that batter down past mistakes, regret, miscommunication, misunderstandings, bitterness, and confusion.
On those days I do feel fury towards mom or dad. Sometimes I feel like they’re doing it all wrong and if I could just take over I would fix it.
But I can’t fix it. No one can. What’s broken is gone and what’s ahead is something different than maybe anyone originally wanted.
And that’s the point. I’m in the middle because for whatever reason mom and dad aren’t together anymore. I’m in the middle because my stepchild needs me and has depended on me in more ways than I can count over the years. I’m in the middle because I’m committed to being a parent, even on those days I want to buy a ticket to Tahiti and never return.
But, again, this is not just about me. It’s mostly about the children who are the real people stuck in the middle, struggling to find their identities. The children we are all raising.
What’s done is done. We can’t live in the past. Children definitely need to feel validated as to where they came from. But they also need guides to help them reach the next level of their lives in a healthy way and to help them move on from what they can’t glue back together.
As a stepparent, you have the power to be the glue that binds a blended family together, in a new and hopefully better way.
Michelle Zunter is a Canadian-turned-American living, loving, & writing in California. You can read Michelle’s lifestyle blogs about love, sex, relationships, marriage, divorce, parenting, step-parenting & much more at The Pondering Nook. You can also listen to Michelle co-hosting at The Broad’s Way Podcast discussing similar topics.