This blog was never meant to be a political forum. I am writing this blog after the carnage in Newtown, Connecticut where a person walked into Sandy Brook Elementary School and killed 20 babies and 6 caring teachers. The country is reeling from the horror of the act. The grief is overwhelming and the thought that is in everyone’s mind is “There but for the grace of G-d go I”. As I write this, the news media is filled with discussions about gun control and our mental health system (or lack of) in the United States.
Often, the answer to a problem is in a place where you least expect to find it. I say that a step parent is uniquely qualified to stand up, create change and make the world a better place. We know that there are over 20 million of us. But, we hide in the shadows and say nothing about the things that we see in our families. As a group, we are afraid of being alienated from our families. As a family “outsider” we often see the troubles in our families, even when the bio parents cannot.
Step Parents See Things.
Step parents see patterns and trends within our families and our children that the biological family members often do not see. Any step parent reading this knows exactly what I am talking about. Have you noticed a learning issue with your step children? Behavioral or emotional issues with the children? Real psychological instability among members of the family? How many of us have noticed medical or psychological issues and said nothing? My gut tells me that many of us have done just that.
Step parents don’t talk because we are afraid of the back lash. We are afraid of being kicked out of our families, losing everyone’s love and incurring everyone’s wrath. We know that our opinions, generally, are not valued. We don’t want to cause trouble. One lesson that we can garner from the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School is that we must not be silent any more. If we have a feeling that a child is in trouble, we have to speak up: regardless of any rejection that might ensue. If our guts are telling us that a child needs help, we have to be diligent in our efforts, even if the biological parents reject our hypothesis.
Step Parents See the Impact of the Divorce
For all of us that have been divorced, we like to tell ourselves that our children are ‘okay’. It satisfies our own guilt and our own ability to function. The truth of the matter is that divorce shatters our children’s souls and changes who they are or were going to be. The world can become a distrustful place. Knowing that bio parents can sometimes be operating under a veil of denial, a cognizant step parent can make all the difference. We can make our step kids feel safe by being consistent in our behavior and family rituals. We can be a source of fun and laughter. If we feel as if our step children need additional help from their parents, we can talk.
Step Parents Need to Have Courage
It is difficult to know where a step parent’s business begins and ends. I just wrote a blog about these boundaries and said that many aspects of our family life is not a step parent’s business. After the Sandy Hook disaster, I wanted to offer this idea. If we see any type of bizarre behavior, the boundary just vanished. We have to keep the mental and physical health of our children and community top of mind.
So, how far do we go? Communicate by describing the behaviors. Stay fact-based when expressing your concerns. Start by talking to your partner about your concerns. Hopefully, your partner will communicate with the other bio parent and appropriate care will be given. If there is no action and you still have concerns, go to your support professional. This is the clergy, coach, or psychologist who supports you. Get advice. What should you do next? If you are still bothered and your inner gut is telling you that something is wrong and getting worse, find a professional in the field, eg. medical doctors, psychiatrists, teachers, etc. Ask them for advice. If this professional is in agreement with your concerns, organize a meeting with the bio parents. In the worst case scenarios, we may find ourselves in the untenable position of reporting our concerns to the school or even medical or security professionals. In this case, we can only hope that our family understands. Even as I write this last statement, my heart pounds with fear.
Newtown: You are not alone in your grief. The world has been torn apart.