Several years ago, I attended a wedding. The bride’s parents had divorced when “Holly” was in elementary school. Her mother remarried shortly thereafter, and the stepfather, “Tim,” was instrumental in Holly’s life. So important that, when it was time to plan the wedding, there was no question but that Tim would walk her down the aisle. But at the wedding reception, when the emcee announced the father-daughter dance, both Tim and Holly’s biological father stepped onto the dance floor. A shouting match ensued, and it was uncomfortable for everyone. Especially the bride.
What did we learn from this awkward scenario? Well, the obvious lesson — anticipate these moments when planning the wedding and reception, and communicate the decisions ahead of time. But what about the subtle lesson? Not all stepparents are evil. Some even have the ability to love beyond their own progeny.
Bringing up the role of a future stepparent isn’t generally discussed during divorce mediation. But fast-forward some months or years, and there are subsequent marriages and blended families in the picture. This could be the perfect storm, or it could be a perfect opportunity to revisit your divorce mediator, this time to talk about issues within the new dynamic, sometimes even with the blended family in tow.
Depending upon the ages of the children, a group mediation can help establish ground rules for the newly blended family. In my very own conference room, I have empowered a 10-year-old girl to express her concern about sharing a bedroom with her eight-year-old stepsister. Everybody listened to understand her fears and concerns, and then both sisters created a code of conduct about their stuff. I even prepared a written agreement between the two girls, and they solemnly signed it as though they were entering into a contract to rent an apartment. The impact was unmistakable.
Of course, there are different issues when it comes to teenagers. If the stepparent’s teens are allowed unlimited use of cell phones, computers, and automobiles, but the biological parent’s teens are not, whose rules govern? Another opportunity for a neutral third party to help the entire family brainstorm about what is reasonable, fair, and enforceable.
And what if your new partner’s kids take an instant dislike to YOU? (Or vice-versa?) Instead of playing the adult card, especially when your age has little or nothing to do with your stepson’s blatant disrespect towards you, how about seeking out the help of a family mediator? Stepkids, especially teenagers, may be more open when talking to a non-therapist, especially one who’s trained to listen and ask questions without judgment.
Blended family mediations have tremendous success because all of the family members have an equal voice. If your relationship with your stepchildren is causing stress in your marriage, please schedule an initial consultation at no charge. Or, if your blended family needs a tune-up because the kids are older and the issues have changed accordingly, a brief session with a family mediator will likely help you avoid singing the blues.