Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ten steps to living with a stepparent

       One minute you’re the one and only; next thing you know another four kids have moved in!  Worst of it is you had absolutely no say in the matter. No one asked if you minded sharing your home – and your parent’s attention - with a whole bunch of other people.
       Step families can certainly cause problems, yet there’s little if anything children can do to prevent natural parents remarrying - Or, come to that, from their being divorced or widowed in the first place.
       What you CAN do, however, is find a way of coping,  of coming to terms with the situation, making the best of it and even reaping rewards.  It takes time, of course, but by applying the following suggestions, you may find your newly extended family proves less of a curse, more of a blessing.

Consider your parent

       A parent’s remarriage is a seismic event and it’s only human to worry about its effects upon you. But you’re not the only person to be considered.  If your Mum or Dad has met someone who makes them happy, shouldn’t you be happy for them?

Keep the peace

       When a couple marry, they become ‘one flesh’ and no amount of sulking, yelling or threatening is going to break them up. Fifteen-year-old Gemma resented her stepmother so much that it eventually led to a bitter fight. Unable to tolerate Gemma’s behaviour any longer, the stepmother insisted her husband make a choice. Her or Gemma. No contest. Gemma was forced to go back to her natural mother, who had also married again.
Count your blessings

       Nobody’s perfect. There again, few people are all bad either. However much you may dislike your stepparent at first, be ready to admit they have their good points. In fact, make a list. Be quick also to recognise the kind things they do and say.
       A new stepparent may also bring advantages to the family, both financially and domestically, which would doubtless improve life for everyone. And, though they may never take the place of your real father or mother, they could become a wonderful friend. Given the chance!

Don’t get jealous

       Love has no limits. Your parent’s love for you is never going to diminish because they’ve developed a relationship with somebody else.  Their love will simply expand – and so can yours – to include the new spouse. Best case scenario, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, is that you will in time forge a bond of mutual affection and respect with your stepparent.

Don’t feel guilty

       No one can replace a much-loved mother or father, so there’s no need to feel disloyal if and when you grow attached to the newcomer. By the same token, you have a right to go on loving your blood-parent who may have died or been divorced.  In the latter case, even if the absent parent was responsible for the marriage break-up, he or she has not divorced YOU.

Accept discipline

       “You’re not my real mother/father!” This challenge is both immature and pointless. Worse, it can set stepparents and children against one another to everybody’s detriment. Once married, the stepparent is entitled to your respect and co-operation and, by the same token, any discipline is part of their obligation – in fact, discipline should be an expression of their genuine love and concern.
       If, of course, you feel they’re being overly harsh or unjust, then do the grown-up thing. Talk it over, attempt to see their point of view and, if they have misjudged the situation, be forgiving.
Learn to share

       From being a rather pampered only child of a single mother, Vanessa found herself with a new stepdad and his four children. She didn’t even have her own room anymore! You too may be asked to make sacrifices, which may be hard to accept and cause resentment. Remember though, these new circumstances will be just as difficult for your step-siblings to take on board. They too will be struggling to adjust and may resent you. In this case, it always pays to be kind, even if they snub you or behave rudely. Take tiffs and squabbles in your stride – they happen with natural siblings too!
       By showing kindness, treating them as real brothers and sisters, your love for them will grow, along with your readiness to share.

Be willing to adapt

       If you’ve been the oldest child, you may have to give up your standing as the ‘man of the house’ or Mum’s ‘best friend’, as these roles are now filled by the new parent.  If so, avoid living in the past but accept the situation and move on.  You may even be glad there’s another person around to share the family responsibilities.

Be reasonable

      When stepparents bring their natural children into the home, there are bound to be times when you feel badly done to. “It’s not fair!” echoes from every family in the world - whether the children are fully related or not. Bear in mind, though, that any parent will obviously have a deeper attachment to their natural child than to a stepchild. Even blood-related mothers can have favourites.
       You also need to take personalities into account and their differing needs. As long as your needs are being met, does it really matter if someone else gets more attention? If, however, you don’t seem to get enough help and support then why not voice your concerns with your stepparent? Calmly.

Beware over-familiarity

       Living with step-siblings of different sexes can create moral pressures, especially in this porn-fuelled age. One youth whose home was invaded by four teenage stepsisters admits “I had to put up a mental block concerning sexual feelings.” In a mixed-gender household, it’s essential to behave modestly, not dressing provocatively or doing anything which might arouse undue desires.     


Saturday, 8 June 2013

Lasting relationship? Why Superstars are on the blacklist!

       Sorry Johnny Depp, nothing personal but, even if you begged me on your bended knees I’d still avoid you like the plague. The same goes for you Mr DiCaprio. And you, Shia. And Norman Reedus, keep walking!
       Think of the handsomest, swaggiest, most charismatic hunks in the Universe and they’ll all be on my blacklist! Because, you see, where romance is concerned, I'm prone to one of life’s most distressing, emotionally debilitating conditions; one which, though suffered by countless millions, few will admit to and which, far from gaining sympathy, arouses scorn and derision - if not downright hostility.
       If you haven’t already guessed what this condition is, just listen to King Solomon, the second wisest man who ever lived, who obviously knew a thing or two about relationships:  “There is the cruelty of rage, also the flood of anger, but who can stand before jealousy?”
       Yes, I’m talking about the last taboo, the green-eyed monster that squats in the corner of our minds waiting to devour us, clawing at the heartstrings crazed and feral; that fiend, that emotional sadist - Jealousy.

Positive or Negative?

       Believe it or not, jealousy can be a good thing. The Hebrew word gin-‘ah’ has several meanings, such as “insistence on excusive devotion; toleration of no rivalry; zeal, ardour.” In Greek, similar meanings are evoked by the word ze’los. Such ‘righteous jealousy’ exists in God himself - not in an envious, selfish way, but out of a loving desire to protect his people.
       In the same way, a committed couple may quite rightly be jealous – not of but for each other. Being zealous for the well-being of their mate and any children, they are naturally alert to anything that could threaten their family’s security.
       Negative jealousy, on the other hand, can be highly destructive, often leading to broken relationships and even violence. This kind of possessiveness involves a lack of trust - usually without cause - and is misplaced and unloving.

Why do we suffer from it?

       Today’s throwaway attitudes don’t help. Promiscuity, infidelity and the unwillingness to work at relationships have all played their part in downplaying the benefits of a strongly committed union in favour of the quick thrill, the ego trip, the too-many pints of lager.
       Matt*, a very handsome (and strictly platonic) male friend of mine recently broke up with a girl with whom he was really smitten – purely due to her jealousy. Not that he ever gave her cause. The problem was that, being a likeable person who’s extremely good at his trade, he attracts a lot of customers, including women - something his ex just couldn’t handle.
       This had nothing to do with Matt and everything to do with her own insecurity, her inability to value herself as he did. And this, to my mind, is the key. A secure person will rarely downgrade themselves. A secure person may look like Quosimodo or his aunt yet still regard themselves as worthwhile, people deserving of love, lust and enduring affection.
       In contrast, the most gorgeous creature on the planet may see even the plainest people as a threat. Elaine* is a genuine beauty but hates watching television with her boyfriend because she can’t bear him looking at her imagined on-screen ‘rivals’. “Even when a girl is only moderately attractive, I’m afraid he’ll fancy her instead of me,” she confided before adding (quite unthinkingly, I’m sure) “I’d like you to meet him one day.” Perhaps it’s my trustworthy face!

How to avoid it

       Sadly, many people are so entrenched in their own sense of worthlessness, they may never be entirely free of jealousy. Parents can, however, help their own children to avoid it, simply by demonstrating love, commendation and approval right from the second a baby is born.  
       I emphasis the word demonstrating because so many parents of my mother’s generation failed to do this, believing that feeding, clothing and  generally providing for a child was surely proof enough. Not so. Children don’t read the family’s accounts ledger.
       Erica* looks back on her childhood with sadness: “As a mature person, I now realise my parents did love me, but hugs, kisses and affectionate words were in very short supply – no doubt because child-care experts of the day viewed such behaviour as ‘spoiling’. But how else can a child know they’re cherished and special?” Although happily married, Erica still feels inadequate in virtually all aspects of her life, comparing herself unfavourably with everyone she meets.
       It’s actually possible to identify a person who’s been brought up in a secure loving environment. He or she is often warm and approachable and have an easy confidence with everyone they meet – no matter how good-looking or accomplished. Such people don’t need to compare themselves with others – they know they’re valued by those nearest to them - and that’s the greatest gift any parent can bestow.
      As for the rest of us, well.....we’ll get by. But Shia, don’t expect a phone call any time soon!

*Not real names.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Move over Bond, here comes Bevis

              Extract 1 

Bevis stood in the doorway. Six foot four in his stocking feet, he cut an impressive figure. His clean-shaven jaw was square and manly, his shoulders were wide enough to carry a fortnight's shopping in a trolley on each one, and his voice was soft and rasping with an untraceable burr. Sometimes, he sounded Irish, other times American - but he always sounded as though he meant business! Although it was late at night, his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, making him look even more mysterious, and not even his hair, cropped close to his scalp, gave anything away.
"Champagne?" asked Prism, batting her lavish new lashes.
However, Bevis was in no mood to celebrate. "I've no time for that, he said bluntly. "We need to find the children. Have you any idea where they've gone?" 

Extract 2 

From his vantage point on the hill, Bevis surveyed the forest below, his keen eyes missing nothing, his ears noting the sweetness of a distant lark.
"Looks like rain" came a gruff voice from behind him. It was Mordant, whose puffy red face could scarcely disguise his lack of sleep from the night before. To his great annoyance, Bevis remained motionless and kept focusing on the view. He didn't need to turn round. It was only too easy to recognise Mordant from his nauseating smell and rasping cough, both the result of the cheap cigarettes that continually hung from his fingers.    
"So what's the strategy?" Mordant demanded. "Come on, you're supposed to be the Number One.... Numero Uno! Tell us then, what's your plan?"
"Well" said Bevis "the first thing I plan to do is eat my breakfast. And after that...."
"Yes!" demanded Mordant.
"I'm open to suggestions." Bevis replied calmly. Mordant snorted with contempt.
"Ha! Just as I thought, Mr. Super-agent! Mr. Cool in your fancy leather and your imitation Raybans!   What you're saying is, you haven't got a clue, have you?" Mordant grinned at his subordinates and twitched his head towards Bevis. "Thinks he's a professional, this guy!" 

Extract 3 

The man on the bridge watched them dart underneath him, then, almost casually, he strolled down the steps to the towpath and set off in pursuit.
"Is he coming after us?" asked Joe, anxiously.
"Just keep running, Joe!"  Roots urged, but Odi couldn't resist a backward peek.
"He's coming alright", he said. "Is he gaining on us?" said Alice.  "Heck no," Odi replied, "that guy's too cool to run!" Sure enough, Bevis had hardly accelerated. Even when the party he was following disappeared round a bend, he kept his pace to a confident stride, his long leather coat trailing obediently.
Roots led the way, feeling more unnerved by this stranger than by all the other agents put together. Somehow, he felt they wouldn't shake this one off so easily. How right he was. No matter how fast they ran, or how far they got, they had only to glance behind them to see the sinister figure advancing on them purposefully.