independent

Friday 18 April 2014

The joys of having stepchildren and how to avoid the tantrums and tears

There are pitfalls to instant family life, but you can avoid the tears and tantrums, writes Anita Guidera

Little boy giving his father a big hug
By following some simple guidelines, you can prevent the fairytale romance of your dreams turning into a nightmare.

So you meet the person of your dreams, fall in love, marry and live happily ever after. But what if your partner has children from a previous relationship and you find yourself cast into the role of stepmother or stepfather?

By following some simple guidelines, you can prevent the fairytale romance of your dreams turning into a nightmare.

Compared with other countries, Ireland has a low level of second relationships and remarriage, but that number is on the rise.

According to the most recent figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute, 2.5pc of children – or an estimated 37,500 – live in step or blended families.

Counsellor and psychotherapist Liz Quish believes that becoming a step-parent can be a rewarding experience for all involved.

Liz, who lives in Tipperary town, was 25 when she married divorcé Paul and became a stepmother to three boys, aged 10, eight and two.

"Because of my background and training, I was very aware of the dynamics and what to expect, which was hugely helpful," she says.

Some 14 years on, the boys, now young adults, jokingly refer to her as "the Step".

"They are a very significant part of my life. All the milestones they have reached, I have enjoyed with them, encouraged them and worked with them to achieve those milestones," she says.

Liz, who provides a support service for blended families at the Centre for Social and Emotional Intelligence in Tipperary town, believes there are certain pitfalls, which, if avoided, make for a smoother transition.

'It is a new family format and it is going to bring trials and tribulations. The child needs time to adjust to the new situation and to build up a trust in the new adult.

"The adult has to understand their vulnerability and concerns and to acknowledge them and to appreciate it is difficult for them," she says.

She added that the step-parent must also know the boundaries.

"While I was another significant person in their lives – in that when they were in their father's house, I was going to be there – I was constantly aware that they had a mother and a father.

"I always knew my role and never outstepped the boundary or put myself in a place where the boys were uncomfortable, particularly around family occasions where they might feel a divided loyalty," says Liz.

"If I felt it wasn't my place to be there, I didn't go."

Irish Independent

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