Keeping these terms in mind, one can see that step parenting is more similar to a brownfield project. Step parents have so much more to consider when forming a stable and healthy family. At the top of the list of considerations is the impact of the previous marriage or relationship. Next is the decision on how to discipline the children (who will take the lead, what are the standards, what are the consequences). Then there is the blending of the two households (rituals, materials, traditions…). And let’s not forget the establishment of what is uniquely “ours” without eliminating what was. Truly step parenting is a brownfield development.
Consider this; about ½ of all children born after 1970 will spend part of their growing years in some type of step family. While this fact may surprise you, it is reality. And, as a parent who may be trying to make your step family strong, Catholic and happy, it is only fair that the Church offer its support and assistance. Here are several suggestions that are consistently offered in step parenting research. Take the time to reflect on each.
If there is one dream that step children harbor, it is the hope that their step family will reflect all the same good memories of their previous family. Obviously, this is not going to be the case. Just like you, the step children that you have are reluctant to any change. They need to be consoled that what they had is gone. This will require your empathy and understanding. As a step parent, prepare yourself to be an reflective listener. Work to become comfortable hearing stories (good or bad) of the biological parent. Your step children will be more willing to talk to you and form a warm and loving relationship is you allow them time to grieve what they have lost.
Resist your own dream to become a replacement for your step child’s biological parent. This, also, is not going to happen. No matter if the biological parent is alive or deceased, you are a unique person, created in God’s image and likeness. Instead of trying to be just like the biological parent, be true to the goodness that God has given you. Allow your virtue to spring forth and gently surround the step child.
Because step parenting is truly brownfield development, there is more room for error and missteps. The number of pitfalls facing a step parent exceed normal parenting. This means the likelihood for frustration, rejection, anger and exhaustion is also greater. Begin your step parenting journey fortified with God’s grace and mercy. Make prayer part of your daily routine – asking God to grant you extra fortification as you navigate the potential landmines associated with the step parenting role.
It is unrealistic to expect instant attachment and love with your step child. In many cases, a step parent is more likely to hear the words “you’re not my parent” rather than “I love you”. That’s because the step child wants to see how strong hearted you are. The child wants to find out your limits as well as your hot buttons. When faced with resentment or a test of your resolve “see RED’ – Restate, Examples, Defend Dignity. This three step process begins by respectfully and calmly restating the step child’s statement (“you are correct, I am not your biological parent.”) Next, give examples that illustrate the point. (“Ann is your mother.”) End with a defense of personal dignity. (“Both your Mom and I agree that it is important to be respectful and to resolve problems without yelling.”) In many cases, the child may blurt out their anger and then walk away. Allow a bit of cool down time and then ‘see REDD’ when you can be calm and non-reactive.
Research shows that the first two years of step parenting are the roughest. In most instances, this first period is difficult because step parenting is brownfield development. This means that the first 24 months involve more past history, structure, and issues than new creation. Think of it in terms of building a new structure where there is existing house. The first step in the process is drawing up a blueprint of the new structure. Next, there is complete or partial destruction of the existing house. Only after these two steps can the rebuilding commence. When time is given to the planning and restructuring the entire project becomes more efficient and manageable. And, typically, the resulting structure is sound and strong.
Forming a step family is much the same. The first couple of years are more about what has happened than what will happen. This is when most of the issues will surface and require attention. Thus, the forward progress of a step family can be described as ‘two step forward and one step back’. Thankfully, if the step parents commit to taking the time initially, they create a firm and sound foundation for their children.
Spouses raising step children have to tend to their relationship more than a traditional family because there are more potential conflicts that have to be faced. First, step parents are more likely to give attention to their children than to their own relationship. In doing so, they may forget their need to grow in mutual love which weakens the entire family. Secondly, step parents are more likely to be challenged rather than supported by the children. This can lead to spousal disagreement about family standards, expectations and consequences. Next, step parents are likely to face controversy with any ex-spouses. This may result in spousal disregard, jealously or suspicion. Finally, step parents are more likely to face financial issues resulting from child support.
All of these issues require more unification between the step parents. It is recommended that step parents become more intentional about taking couple time each week to talk and reconnect. The establishment of couple rituals that are shared each day (kiss/hug upon waking, loving phone call or email each day, prayers before retiring…) also provide daily enrichment for couples wanting to become more unified.
As in all research, there are plenty of items that should always be done and should never be done. Here is the ‘catch all’ list of valid suggestions.
There are two great terms that come from business and industry that help explain step parenting; greenfield and brownfield development. When a business is developed from scratch, has no previous history or infrastructure, it is called a greenfield project. Greenfield projects are pure start up. They embrace a dream without constraints – the freedom of barriers – nearly unleashed flexibility. Compare this to a brownfield project. This term implies an existing structure, a defined history and typically something that needs to be modified or fixed. A brownfield project typically requires more planning, strategic thought and time to complete.