To all step parents who are putting in work to bring up functional children, you are a great deal to your child’s generation. With the rising numbers of single parents, blended families are increasing. There is a growing concern by skillful and loving parents who are asking, “What happens when love and parenting skills are not enough?” As children go back to school, there is a dilemma that blended families experience while setting functional goals for the children. I have heard step mothers and fathers point out their need for deprived adherence by the step children they are raising. Some will say, “I took them out for their holiday but these children are not willing to connect with me”. This desire can squeeze thin the relationship between parents and children. It is important to understand that children do not automatically grant the step mom or dad permission to be parented. The young mind has a journey of seeking identity as well as desiring to be claimed by the step parent. Some of the questions that a child grapples with are “Will you claim me enough?”, “Why are you taking my relationship with my parent away?”. These are normal feelings because there was a relationship that existed before and sometimes the child wonders “where do I place you and are you comfortable to be placed?” Most parents make the grave mistake of projecting a lack of permission by the step child to mean a lack of love by their spouse. We need to separate the two and embrace the dynamics of a blended family.
The journey of blended parenting is like learning how to play an instrument. One desires to play by the ear but the music teacher insists, you need to have a relationship with reading music. The music teacher maintains; who you are to what you are playing is more important than what you are playing. This is where music connects to the soul and the soul of music permeates the mind, heart and body to convey intended structures to the soul. This is where the instrumentalist and the music attach and flow to become a sweet breath to the audience. In a blended family, there is a great desire to learn the instrument and get to the stage, win a Grammy and have the clan sing and share the song. It is also important to have in mind that as we all prefer different genres, every blended situation has its uniqueness but the mind, heart and body remain the core of human connection. This is where affirmation, affection and acceptance become the architecture guiding the music structure but the genre depends on the family’s uniqueness.
Just like an instrument, a child must be in a close growing contact with an adult because all the parenting courses and podcasts cannot compensate for a lack of connection between a child and an adult. This kind of adult-child attachment requires necessary support from our culture and society for a healthy family. We need to ask ourselves, “are the economic, political, spiritual and psychological social systems supportive of adult-child attachments?” We have heard the majority take a stand to question “parenting” because of the rising cases of adolescent delinquency. How about that blended family where a child is grappling with the dilemma of living with one who is not the biological mum or dad? How about that step parent who is struggling to understand how they can relate with a child in a situation they have never been in before? In this situation, you have the love and knowledge with which to parent but there is no connection between the child and the adult.
It is not a lack of love or of parenting know-how in such a blended family that makes it hard, but the sprouting connection facing social, economic, political, environmental, psychological and spiritual erosion which the parent has to find a rhythm while trying to win the child’s heart. We need to understand that, while talking about blended parenting, the greatest need is for the young mind to grow towards trust, and the adult to find the rhythm to connect or else, the lack of such context will make our parenting ineffective. I know loving parents who are still struggling to connect with their children. Can we say because their children are struggling that these parents have failed? Some parents may have given up trying to connect and others trying to figure out how to make their families happy and comfortable as the germinating connection stagnates. All said and done, the mental health of both child and the step parent get to encounter a level of confusion to have a successful parent child relationship. It takes time to learn an instrument, it will take time to create a language of connection. Be patient with yourself, the child and your spouse. Beyond love and parenting skills, journey towards connection and increased bonding in your growing kingdom.
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John Wills Njoroge is a psychotherapist and social diagnostician who assists individuals and teams clarify their purpose in life and create a philosophy of their existence and work. He is co-founder of Lead Global Impact, an organization that builds the leadership capacity of primary and high school children and youth in Kenya. He is the author of ‘Father to Son’, a manual designed for fathers to better understand their sons and relate more effectively with them, and ‘Brave Hearts Leadership Program’ a manual that has been used widely to train boys as responsible leaders. Among many other leadership roles, he is consulted and contributes to shaping narratives on youth matters and social justice in Kenya’s mainstream media.