Without an Escape: Blended Families in Quarantine
Originally posted on FamilyLife by Lauren Reitsema.
I worry about blended families in quarantine where emotions are being processed in a place that doesn’t feel safe. For stepchildren and stepparents alike.
Given the COVID-19 stay home mandate, blended families without an escape hatch may find themselves experiencing heightened conflict or taking steps backward in the fragile path toward progress in relationships.
Universally, we are learning to cope with loss during this global COVID-19 pandemic. Some losses are greater than others, yet everyone feels them.
To help manage disappointments in our house, I’ve adopted the habit of checking in on my kids. I’m not just talking about monitoring their remote learning progress. (If they graded parents on homeschool performance, I’d most definitely need an extra-credit option to pass). I’m more interested in their hearts.
I’ll ask, “On a scale of 1-10, where is your heart today?” My kids’ numbers have varied, most often falling between 5-7. Their hearts are far from perfect, which is not surprising as they join a nation in carrying the weight of this burden.
They long to take the field with their teams, laugh with friends at recess, high-five their teachers, and hug their grandparents. And they should. Coronavirus stole a lot, and as parents, we continue to reassure them of their emotional safety to freely express their sadness.
When home doesn’t feel safe for blended families in quarantine
My home is a safe place to process these emotions. But I worry about some blended families where emotions are being processed in an environment that doesn’t feel safe—at least not yet. This is likely the reality for thousands of stepchildren and stepparents alike.
I became a stepchild as a teenager and didn’t feel safe to authentically process any of my emotions until many years later. My coping tactics were simple. When tension ran hot, I ran! A community of friends embraced me around their dinner tables and shared life in an organic setting. In those places, I could feel like myself—no pretending, no pretense, no pressure.
I felt like this escape hatch helped me take my mind off all the new and mechanical patterns within the blended family process. Getting out of my house served as a healthy coping mechanism to channel my grieving process productively and at a pace I could control.
This current health crisis prohibits the natural, and sometimes necessary, option for stepchildren and stepparents to escape. The only people exempt from social distancing are immediate family members living under one roof. For blended families, some individuals may desire and even require a bit of social distancing to cope.
Without an escape hatch, you may find yourself experiencing heightened conflict or taking steps backward in the fragile path toward progress. Take heart and know that you are not alone. The following tips can help.
First, designate escape routes within the bounds of your quarantine.
Take an intentional walk around your home, property, and neighborhood, and earmark personal places of escape for each member of the family. This could be a porch swing, closet, or part of your landscape. Be sure everyone has his or her own unique spot where it’s safe to escape.
Consider these designated places like “bases” in a game of tag. It’s a place you are free to go when you need a break without any consequence. House rules are frozen for a moment when a person is on base. This allows time for everyone to regroup.
Consider setting time limits and communicate expectations when re-engaging is necessary.
Second, depersonalize hurtful emotional outbursts.
In close quarters with very few outlets for socialization, tension and frustration run hot. Be intentional to recognize most emotional outbursts are likely connected to the circumstances, not you. This is even true when it feels like it’s about you.
Take special care to distance words and actions that seem targeted and mean. Do what you can to separate outbursts from your perceived sense of value and worth.
Third, be gracious toward yourself, and extend grace toward your stepchildren.
Your stepchildren are likely to push some boundaries during this time. They will say and do things that frustrate you. Remember that you are also in quarantine with the same limitations and frustrations they feel.
With that said, both parents and children are more vulnerable to experience negative relationship dynamics. It’s helpful to keep reminding yourself of this. One way to remember is to choose a reminder word or signal that brings perspective and allows space for forgiving yourself and others when cabin fever burns.
We are all awaiting a definitive “ending” to reclaim our freedom to connect without Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom. Until then, be patient. Do your best to social distance yourself, even from one another. Work hard not to internalize negative and hurtful behaviors that are heightened by stepchildren in quarantine.
To learn more about parenting children in blended families, pick up a copy of Laura’s book In Their Shoes, helping parents better understand and connect with children of divorce.
Copyright © 2020 by Lauren Reitsema. All rights reserved