My stepkids have thus far been raised mostly by their grandparents. Their bio mom is not in the picture at all. The kids are 10. My husband and I got married Early June and we are living at a house 25 minutes away from my stepkids grandparents- the kids have been staying at their grandparents thru the week and at our house on weekends. I’ve noticed the last couple weekends after the kids have spent one night with us -they blatantly share that They’re ready to go back to their grandparents.
We made sure to get a place where the kids would each have their own bedroom – bc at their grandparents my SD slept on the couch and my SS shared a bed with his pap. Here, they are expected to sleep in their own room in their own twin size bed. At our new house- the kids will go to a new (much better) school. – I’m worried that all of the changes happening at this time in their life may cause problems.
My stepkids are starting that stage- puberty- and moving to a new house (they’ll be with us full time once school starts-( we only have them on weekends now- due to work schedules.) and a new school – and taking them ‘away’ from their grandparents may overwhelm them. What can I do to ease the transition?
In addition. To that – the kids call their grandma “mommy” – I don’t expect them to call me mommy but I think it’s so weird when we’re out somewhere and the kids say “mommy and pappy’s” – and that it was NEVER corrected… 😳 Is it weird?
Hi. Over the last 16 years of working with Stepmoms and their life situations almost nothing is weird to me anymore. There are so many complexities and tangles in stepfamilies that I’ve worked hard to just focus on what is—to the best of my ability. What I will say is that it is very noteworthy. It tells you a LOT about the grandmother and her sense of ownership over those kids…HER kids as I’m guessing she would describe them. It can also be used as a clue for you to manage the situation with more awareness since it is unusual for kids to call their grandmother, “Mommy.”
So, to your question about transitions. The best thing about your situation is that you have some time before school starts and the transition is full time. Your willingness to invest energy into helping these stepkids–who have clearly experienced a lo–is a great gift to them. It is a pleasure to offer you some ideas.
OK, Where to begin?
Personal note: Growing up we moved about every two years—8 times before I graduated from high school. In my view my mom did a great job helping me and my younger sister look forward to each move and feel happy once we were in our new place. I’m going to add a few suggestions from my life to the following list of ideas.
1. Kids love rituals and traditions. Please look for some ways to begin doing certain things on certain days and in certain circumstances. There are really infinite options. Please see my two public articles about ways to connect with your stepkids for some thought starters and an explanation of how positively impactful these practices can be for you all.
2. Begin to “throw futures” for the joys of your new home and their school. This is the term I use when we begin visioning the way things can be in the future. Giving the stepkids the freedom to plan their rooms is one thing you can do now and implement once in your new home. You can be as colorful and creative as you want—or not. You can start each a folder to begin collecting things or just talk about it an make notes. You can take them to a home depot or paint store and start Picking paint color. To bed bath and beyond or other stores and picking bedspread, curtains, blankets, sheets, bedside lamps, maybe a desk. You and your DH set a budget–they are old enough to understand numbers and even practice some basic math. Please do what you can do to give them as many free choices as you can. This is going to soothe them on several levels—even if they appears to resist at first. Stepkids have enough less control over their lives than kids of intact families. This is enraging so whatever freedoms you can give them, the better.
Example: Each skid gets one day of the week and she/he gets to select the menu on that day.
3. The whole idea of their own room, their own choices and having fun with you and their dad is beginning to be experienced by them. This is a good thing. You’re up against the possibility of right/wrong, good/bad judgments from the Grandparents for all the subtle and not so subtle ways they can let the stepkids know they disapprove. I pray that they will be supportive of this transition. Please take a look at my public article about “The Loyalty Wars” so you can prepare for that. Here’s hoping they will at least be civil to you all—ideally kind.
I’ve found it very helpful for relieving skid anxiety to introduce them to the concept of not right or wrong but different. Using the metaphor of ice cream flavors and how it’s not right or wrong to pick a flavor each person likes, even if it is different from other people they love. You get the point. My Point is helping them truly believe that they are not being disloyal if they are happy with you, if they love their rooms, if they are having fun with you two, etc.
You and your hubby (DH) can help them by gently and lovingly respond to any comments like, “You’re doing it wrong, Pappy mows the yard in circles, not rows” (any comparison) by saying with a smile, “ Honey, it’s not right or wrong, just different!”
4. Introducing them to as many unknowns as possible BEFORE they have to face them is also going to ease the transitions. Can you take them to the school to meet the Principal before hand? Can you ask the school to help you by showing them their classrooms? If they are going to walk or ride to school from your new home, can you take the route and make a picnic of the day? Making new things fun, telling Daddy all about it at the dinner table (as example) also reinforces whatever they experience. You have a chance to shape their life views of a lot of things—showing them that change can be good. I call it the “Christmas Eve theory of the Unknown.” Every Christmas Eve millions of kids don;’t know what is going to happen the next day but they go to sleep believing it is going to be a good thing. You can teach them that with this transition.
5. Hello and Good-bye rituals—this is a subset of the first point and I’ve found it very important. Often stepkids will pick a fight or become upset about something-anything to become angry before they leave Dad and Stepmom. Why? Because being angry feels better to them than being sad. Your stepkids are still kids and sounds like they may have had some sadness in their lives already so…do some creative brain-storming about how to create something fun when they come to you and before they leave.
Again, unlimited happy ideas.
Like playing entrance music when they enter the house, so dance party begins their time with you.
Playing a mini-scavenger game each time they return so they can find fund things upon returning.
A special welcome home food, tea party, chance to give each of them some time to adjust, based on the personality of the stepkids.
It’s important to make these rituals something you and DH are willing to keep up so simple is best…fun can be simple.
Quiet time for first 10 minutes so they can put away things.
Dog walking or any other healthy non-verbal action is very soothing as often it can be exhausting for stepkids to have to answer so many questions about their past visits–even if well meaning. Find fun ways to give them time to adjust and regroup in a calm, happy loving, safe joyful way.
6. Do whatever you can to put the school day between the Grandparents and your home. We’ve had such better experiences when the stepkids have the chance to detach from the homes their in, whenever possible before going to the “other” home. While this is not always possible, it is much less stressful for the stepkids.
7. Create “Grandparent” check in time as a ritual as well. This can be tricky as you want them to be with you while they are with you, however, given the circumstances, you might want to create a fun way they can talk with their grandparents, Skype or Facetime, if YOU and your DH want to do that. At 10, a week doesn’t seem as long as it does for a 4 year old so you will want to assess if they need to talk with them between visits. I’m not recommending it. I’m just encouraging you organizing something about your schedule if you and DH and Grandparents agree this is needed. It’s helpful to avoid having the stepkids wanting to call them every day or every time you all are having fun. Been there, felt the pain of this so wanting to spare you if possible.
When you create something fun as a ritual, everyone will feel the joy instead of the resentment or other unspoken energy that the stepkids will definitely experience. Again, I’m so hopeful that the grand parents will work with you about this.
7. About the name titles: I’m relieved to hear you are not expecting them to call you Mommy. This is such a charged word and the grandparents have made it even worse, nuclear by having them call the grandma, Mommy. Having them call you by your first name or some nickname that is special for them is all about your gut and heart and what feels right. I always suggest something that is new and not like anything else to avoid any comparisons. What they are doing now is the past and is implanted in their minds…kids understand the world is an ever changing parade of new things. You and Your DH can make those new things lots of fun for them.
8. This is a chance for you to help them see themselves as individuals. Start a list of favorites and see if you can come up with 25-30 things. Perhaps two side my side lists on your fridge that they can fill out over the summer. This will begin to help them see it is AOK to be unique and that you and their Dad see them as unique, amazing little people you two are lucky enough to love, care for and get to know.
The lists can be lots of fun and depending on your sense of things, you can also make lists for you and your DH to fill out and put all 4 lists on the wall.
You put each name at the top, “SD’s List of Favorite Things-2-16.”
Some ideas for the list are favorite: color to look at, color to wear, stuffed animal/toy, fruit, BBQ’d food, ice cream flavor, superhero, animal, weather day, tv show, movie, item of clothing, day of the week, time of day, season, sport, outdoor activity, pizza topping, cake/pie, vacation spot, book, cartoon character, musical group/ singer, tooth brush color, board game, birthday party game…funny and happy and silly merges with giving you and DH all kinds of clues as to how to honor each of them.
In summary it is about giving them as many choices as possible and allowing them to pick, even if it’s not your favorite or doesn’t even seem “Right.” Meaning—only give them choices where they are truly free to make the choice they want, even if it isn’t your choice. You are demonstrating your trustworthiness—or not. You are showing them they are safe and free to express their true feelings with you—or not. This is a pivotal time for you and an amazing opportunity to help these stepkids begin a new life with their dad and amazingly loving Stepmom—YOU!
I hope this is helpful.
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Kind Regards, Cathryn