What was once considered a rarity—step-siblings, step-parents, and step-in-laws—has become more common than not. When couples marry, there is a very good chance that one of them brings an extended family that branches by halves and steps. And if that couple winds up divorcing, the tree splinters even further. Because there is no biological bond that obligates a step-family member to stay in contact with other steps, the rules of engagement can be confusing and tense. In a recent article, marriage experts explain how to navigate the rocky road of step-relationships after divorce.
Take, for example, the case of an ex-wife who spent decades raising her step-children. Should she continue the relationship with these nonbiological children, even though she has no legal claim to them? Mary T. Kelly, a marriage therapist from Colorado, notes that often step-children can be a contributing factor to divorce. Many blended-family parents disagree over how to raise his, hers, and their children. Tension that exists between step-children and step-parents seems like normal childhood rebellion, but in many cases may actually run deeper.
Paul Hokemeyer, a New York therapist, says couples and children need to determine if they want those relationships to continue after divorce. Many children may not be permitted to make contact with their ex-step-parents while they are minors, but can make the choice whether to have a relationship with that significant person when they reach adulthood. Even step-grandparents get caught in the mix when step-families divorce. Grandparents who become attached to step-grandchildren, only to have them taken away, may not be willing to invest as much into future step-family members.
One Massachusetts psychologist, Patricia Papemow, recommends that clients try to initiate contact through letters rather than personal visits or phone calls. It is important for step-children to be allowed to have time to process the shift in the relationship on their own terms. Letting them know a step-parent is there through cards and letters is a noninvasive and subtle way to continue contact and keep the door open for future communication. Regardless of how an individual chooses to stay in contact with their step-children, Hokemeyer insists that they review their motives so that all parties will be receptive. “Make sure that you are acting out of genuine love and concern for the other person, and not out of anger and attempts to manipulate,” Hokemeyer says. Following these tips could help step-exes maintain important family ties in a world of ever-changing family dynamics.
Gootman, Elissa. When branches tangle in a stepfamily tree. (n.d.): n. pag. The New York Times. 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 8 Oct. 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/04/fashion/-step-family-trees-with-tangled-branches.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
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