Moms and stepchildren
Since more than half of marriages are now ending in divorce, we have many blended families or step families today. The problem is that families don’t blend all that well. Children and teens have loyalties to the birth mother and often yearn to have their birth parents back together.
What comes out of this unsettling time when families are breaking up and getting” reconstructed” is that the children will “test” to see how far they can influence the family to get their way. This is understandable because they are really searching for stability, even though they don’t consciously realize it. The stability and predictability of what the rules are has been taken away from them. They need strong and enforced limits to feel safe again….that’s right…limits that are consistently enforced actually make everyone feel safe.
The cornerstone of a family is structure.
If you have a solid structure the family will work because each person knows what is expected of them and the consequences of “breaking the rules”. In order to find out if there really are consequences for breaking the rules the child will test the limits.
The most common way of testing in a blended family is to try to turn one “parent ” against the other. An example that I see working with blended families it where the daughter in a new blended family will try to turn the new woman ,a prospective stepmom ,against the father by telling her things about the father…. things like ” he won’t ever marry you” and things that will make the new woman feel insecure about the relationship.
This is called “triangling” in family therapy speak, where one person talks about another family member when they’re not present and tries to turn one against the other. So you may wonder, Why is this so damaging?
The answer is that by doing this the executive branch of the family ,( the father and stepmom or new woman) is being weakened by allowing a child to be pulled up into that position. Structural family therapy is built on the fact that the structure of a family , like a house, needs to have separate levels. The parents belong in the executive level at the top and the children belong below that level in the child level. Like a house, when you build a strong foundation, you will have a good house. The parental dyad being united in the executive position ensures this structure which makes everyone in the family feel safe because there is a position for the parents and for the children.
Even though we all test limits to see if they are real, we really yearn for them because they make up feel safe and show us where our position is so that we can win in the family. The best way to stop this attempt at “triangling” by a child is to have a hard and fast rule that says ” We don’ t talk abut the other person when they are not present. Just having the rule is not enough, it MUST be consistently followed. This will eliminate many of the conflicts in a blended family.