featured Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
Do you know what a pot-bound plant is?
When a plant is growing in a particular pot, it keeps growing but its environment, the pot, does not grow with it. The plant gets to a certain point and then becomes what is called “pot bound”. The roots just keep going round and fill up the whole pot. They become more and more rigid. They cannot spread out in that cramped environment. When you break open the old pot and replant the plant in a bigger pot or in the garden the plant can stretch out and grow much bigger.
A stepfamily, according to Sidra Stone—who came up with this perfect metaphor—is like breaking the old pots open and giving the family members, especially the children, a place to grow which is much bigger.
With this new, unfamiliar and bigger space come a lot of adjustments. The plants need to get used to the new soil. If loving gardeners make sure the new soil is rich and fertile and full of nutrients, the plants are more likely to do well in the new environment.
Today, who doesn’t know someone who is part of a stepfamily? In 2011in Canada, there were 464,335 “melted families”. This represents more than 10% of Canadian families with children. Melted families are becoming increasingly complex. In 1995, the simple stepfamilies—in which all the children were the children of one of the spouses only—were still in the majority. Today, complex stepfamilies with children from both spouses are as typical or even in the majority.
In my blog “Points to Consider for Parenting” on September 1st, I elaborated on four aspects of parenting which can help us to be more successful parents if we are aware of them:
- The Adults in the Family Should Be True Partners in Parenting
- Children Carry Our Disowned Selves; They Show Us What We Tend to Judge and Dislike
- Be Aware of the Energetic Linkage: Who is bonded into Whom?
- Ask, What Does This Parenting Situation Have to Teach Me?
Here are two additional points to consider particularly for stepparenting:
- You Are the Parent of Your Own Children
Don’t try to be the disciplining parent for your stepchildren, especially if they still have two biological parents. It’s impossible and bound to fail. Don’t expect to take the part of their mother or father. There is no such thing as “just” being the stepparent. It is an essential and enriching experience for everybody involved. Yet different guidelines apply for the stepparent than apply for the parent. When the parent is not taking charge of a situation, it can understandably be challenging for the stepparent to hold back.
It is therefore crucial for each parent to step into your parenting role when it comes to your own biological children. It is your responsibility to parent your children. Leaving it up to the stepparent to do the disciplining or activities that you do not enjoy is unfair to everybody. Communicate clearly with your partner what you need from him or her. This can mean that you—or your partner—need to step up and become a more confident or involved parent.
When old family systems are dissolved and we move from being a couple to being parents or stepparents, from having no siblings or full siblings to suddenly having stepsiblings, everybody is vulnerable and insecure: the adults as well as the children. Everybody is faced with a new situation and adjustments while navigating their own feelings and experiences.
We need to be aware of our vulnerability, and this vulnerability has to be available between the partners. We usually live in our power selves of pusher or rational mind or assertive self and so on, which exist to protect our vulnerability. These power selves are helpful for our survival but can prevent real connections.
Vulnerability gives us the option to be with somebody without all the defences and guards. It allows us to be authentic and to feel and communicate all feelings. When things happen in the parenting situation, it allows us then to come to our partner and express how we truly feel and to work out a solution together. If we are not able to do that, we might end up attacking our partner or his or her child, unaware of our vulnerability in a situation. Our power selves jump in and take control. Communicating the vulnerability is the first step towards aligning with your partner. The next big step is to bring this same open communication to the children or stepchildren instead of coming from a place of power all the time. The interactions can then become deep, sensitive connections with them, a different quality of interactions than when we come from our power selves.
The new set of in-laws for each partner is another vulnerability that comes into play. In the case of a second or third marriage, we have lost one set of in-laws and siblings-in-laws from the previous relationship, and we need to navigate the new rules and ways of the new in-laws. The new in-laws might be struggling just in the same way with the changes which come up. They might fear losing the contact with their son or daughter and their grandchildren now that a new person has come into the picture. It is a situation which brings up lots of vulnerabilities, insecurities and fears. Be loving and kind with yourself and those around you as you are going through those changes.
When the parents choose to parent consciously, both stepping up to be involved parents who are aware of vulnerabilities among the family members and ready to address them, the conditions are ideal for new growth. Children can spread out to make new experiences and to grow strong roots in their new and more expansive environment, like pot bound plants that are being replanted in larger pots.
Conscious Parenting & Life Coaching
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