These are words that can strike at the heart of a stepmother so it’s important to understand what kids really mean when they say this.
If you have lost one of your own parents, you might sometimes feel like saying “I wish dad were still around. I really miss him”. I think you know what I mean. It’s like sighing out loud. You sure wouldn’t want anyone to respond: “Well, that’s silly, he’s been gone for years!” You just need to say it in order to feel better. You are not looking for a solution, just a sounding board.
For kids, the loss of their family is like a death. They miss the entity that was their family. They don’t expect it to magically be put back together, they just need to say it out loud.
If you find yourself overhearing this, or talking about this with your stepkids, here are some important things to remember:
It’s about feeling torn in half. They live in two different homes, with different bedrooms, different food, different neighborhood friends. Perhaps there is even a pet who lives at one place but not the other. Due to the separation, they might feel the weight of having to deal with bitterness and or unhappiness of one parent, or a big difference in how happy and settled one parent seems compared to the other. They think that if their parents were living together again, those problems would go away.
2. WANTING A NORMAL FAMILY
This is a big one for my own stepkids. One stepson in particular often expresses how badly he wants what he thinks of as a ‘normal’ family. This comes from not having enough life experience to understand the wide variety of family situations. They think their own family is the only one with these kinds of problems. They may feel that other kids are judging them or at least observing what they think are embarrassing things about their life.
3. EXPRESSING THEIR HURTS IN ORDER TO HEAL
Just like in the example I gave above, we all need to express our feelings in order to process them and be able to heal from our hurts. Imagine if, in the example above, you said those words to your mom and she responded by saying “But dad has been gone for so many years, I thought you would be used to my new husband by now” You would say, “Good grief, mom, it’s not about him! I just miss DAD!”
Hearing comments like “I wish mom and dad were still together” can have an effect of activating some of your ‘old stuff’. We all have old issues in our unconscious minds such as insecurity about belonging or how rejected or unimportant we were made to feel at another time in our lives. Try to notice when you are experiencing a feeling that you recognize from another situation and detach that from what’s really happening right now.
You want to develop a relationship with your step kids that will give them the security to come to talk to you about anything that comes up for them (think serious teenage issues!) without worrying about hurting or upsetting you.
WHAT TO SAY
Here are some samples you could try out:
“You wish your mom and dad were still together. Is that what you said?”
“I understand. What do you miss about that time?”
“Did something happen to make you feel especially sad about that today?”
“It’s OK to wish that! You’re allowed to wish whatever you want!”
Then, just stay in that wishing place with them for a while, let them feel your company. Let them talk about their old life and what they miss about it, or why they feel extra sad today.
You’ll be surprised what you hear when you just listen!