You're focused on YOUR feelings about everything, which only makes them feel worse.
When my step-son Dylan was 7, he came home from school and showed me a Mother's Day card he made. It was a card for his mother, not for me.
He apologized and said he told his teacher he wanted to make another Mother's Day card for me, but his teacher said no.
I told him it was "OK" and thanked him for thinking of me. I was, deeply, saddened by his teacher's response, and yet, happy because he thought of me. Most of all, my heart broke for him — what a thing for a child to have to apologize for.
But the reality is — nowadays, the "modern family" is a blended family. And as such, parents, educators and adults need to improve at navigating this changing dynamic. It's time to let go of how things once were and pay attention to what each child needs now.
A common concern for blended families is how well the parents and stepparents get along, and how the children often feels caught between them.
Well, not all divorced parents hate each other. My husband, Dan, has an amicable divorce with his ex, whom I also get along with fine, as well getting on well with his children, Dylan and Mischa.
Over the years of loving and stepparenting the boys though, I realized that children in blended families deal with so much more (growing up, and for the the rest of their lives) than adults recognize or give them credit for.
That Mother's Day incident was just one example. The following year, Dylan came home with two Mother's Day cards. Which seems sweet, but so begins the double duty step-child take on.
Every year, for the rest of his and his brother's life, Mother's Day means they have more phone calls to make, or miss. And if the parents and stepparents fight for attention, the pressure mounts. One "parent" gets upset when the call comes "too late" or, not at all. (In our case, this year, we joked about how Mischa wouldn't believe that Dylan called me at nine in the morning because there's no way Dylan could be up at that time on a Sunday morning.)
Then, there is Father's Day. Dan's ex remarried about 10 years ago, that started the lifetime double duty on Father's Day for the boys. Not to mention, there are each parent and stepparents' birthday, plus holidays. From the time children become members of a blended family, until they die, they carry a particular weight and "responsibility" of their own, and that's a lot for a child to shoulder.
But, we can help lessen the extra burdens they carry. Exactly what burdens do stepchildren carry? Here are just a couple of the challenges they have to cope with:
1. The endless guilt trip
Stepchildren often struggle with expressing love and appreciation to stepparents during holidays or special occasions because of lack of support from adults in their lives. If you're a teacher and have children from blended families in your classroom, make the extra effort to allow children the space to celebrate all of the parents in their lives.
Also, If you're a stepparent and don't receive a Mother's Day card or birthday present, don't make your child feel guilty about. In fact, all parents can put effort into making sure your stepchild can do special things for you and their other parents. Take them shopping for gifts, help them make homemade cards, and show them you are an adult they can count on to relieve some of the guilt and pressure they feel.
2. The pressure to please
Stepchildren now have more people to inform and please. Especially on major occasions like bringing home their report cards, birthdays, graduations, weddings and other milestones. Did they remember to call each set of grandparents? And tell every aunt and uncle. Notifying everyone can suddenly feel like a chore instead of a celebration ... especially when the worry about someone feeling "left out" steals the child's moment from them and makes it about NOT upsetting every adult who wasn't informed or consulted.
Have you ever brought home a "poor" report card and dreaded having to show it to your parents? Try showing it to four parents. Weddings, for example, are already difficult to plan; if you throw in two sets of parents who don't get along (plus their extended relatives), things quickly become explosive.
How Grownups Can Help
Be the kind of parent who doesn't saddle your children with one more thing to worry about! I've always let our sons know that I am available at whatever function they choose for me to attend or not to attend. I offer support, don't set unreasonable boundaries and do what I can to remain flexible and helpful.
When blending families, our goals are to create new and lasting bonds together — to create a sense of identity as a family. This is challenging and I don't envy the stepchildren involved. What they must deal with for the rest of their eyes is unfair and unfortunate.
As parents and, society at large, we need to keep this in mind when teaching, ministering to, mentoring or just plain loving kids in blended families.