We often find ourselves asking:
• Why do they act this way?
• Why do I have to keep telling them the same thing over and over again before they learn?
• What makes them think they know everything?
• Why don’t they understand right from wrong?
Why are they so sensitive about everything?
It’s so important for us to realize the fact that children are not little adults.
We can’t treat them like miniature versions of ourselves. Even if we think we have the most mature and intelligent kids around (which we all do, right?).
Vice versa, if we marry a man with older or adult children, expecting them to welcome you with open arms and start calling you mom is a little farfetched.
As stepmoms, it’s imperative that we understand that each one of our stepchildren is different, they all have different perceptions of history, and they WILL CHANGE OVER TIME.
Even when I sat through psychology classes in nursing school (so long ago), I was amazed how psychologists, all the way back to the 1920’s, could categorize personality and psychosocial stages by age.
Even through the Great Depression Era, the World Wars, color TV’s and microwaves, beehive hairdo’s and legwarmers, or rotary dial and cell phones, our brains still seem to development within the context of these stages.
Erik Erikson was a psychologist who developed a model of this personality and social development that spanned from birth into adulthood. He also believed that as long as we are breathing, we are evolving.
Erikson explained that as we travel through these different stages, we develop basic virtues which we use to deal with life crises. In other words, we are supposed to complete each stage and move to the next. As you can assume, sometimes people get stuck in one stage or another.
Without getting too technical, I’ve described each stage in a way that I would understand it. Hopefully, it will resonate with other stepmoms too.
1. Trust vs. Mistrust: (INFANT)- A baby is helpless. They depend on whoever is around to make sure they are fed, warm, and exposed to human touch. Even if a baby is in the same room with his/her parents, if those parents don’t take care of the baby, the baby never develops the feelings of security and stability in the world. Anxiety, fear, and insecurity results in children who don’t develop trust as an infant. If you are the stepmom of an infant, it's important that you help feed and take care of them. By holding them, looking into their eyes, and talking to them as infants, you will start developing a bond of trust with them. VIRTUE=HOPE
2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt: (18 MONTHS-3 YRS)- Can’t you picture this stage? It makes me tired thinking about it! These little ones are running around and exploring. This is when you swear your 2-year-old think she’s 22. She wants to pick out her clothes, food, and activities. It’s like a puppy who is just waiting for you to crack the back door open for a second so they can slip through to freedom. I have to admit; this is the age where I attempted to use the leash for my twin daughters. If it worked like the commercial said it would, I was determined to use it and look past all of the seasoned moms who would have loved to call CPS on me. No one had to call CPS because it didn't work longer than five minutes anyway. For stepmoms, this can be a challenging stage like it can be for bio mom and dad. Explore with your stepchild but keep them safe! You will be part of setting boundaries for them. Continue to bond with them at this time and understand that they will slow down eventually! VIRTUE = WILL
3. Initiative vs. Guilt: (3-5)- “Why do leaves grow on trees?”, “Why do dogs like to lick people?”, “Why can’t I stick things up my nose?”, “Why, why, why?” Yep, you know this stage. You don’t want to get mad but sometimes, on the way home from picking him up at daycare, you would also like to turn the radio up so loud that you can’t hear anything else. Sometimes you wonder if he is too bossy around other kids and way too aggressive. On the playground, so you aren’t known as the mom or stepmom with the bossy kid, you immediately drag him off the swings for a timeout when he appears to be bossing around the other kids. Moments later, you are crying because you realize how guilty he feels for making you angry and upsetting others around him. You pray you haven’t scarred him for life. Stepmoms, you are doing the best you can. Answer their questions because that is how they learn. And, by conversing with them and giving them answers to the things that they don't understand, they are learning to trust you and depend on you even more. Soon, they will be growing up and they will feel comfortable coming to you with questions if that's how it's always been for them since they were young. That's pretty exciting! Don't forget, you have to teach them right from wrong as well. Sometimes, they won't like our direction just like they don't like anyone telling them what to do, but they will respect you for it later. VIRTUE = PURPOSE
4. Industry Competence vs. Inferiority: (5-12)-At this age, they are always asking to have a friend over or attend social events. Suddenly, your son or stepson asks you to buy him hair gel and your daughter or stepdaughter is wanting that pretty lace bra with the pink bow on the front. What their teachers think about them is crucial. They need to hear from their parents and teachers that they are smart and capable of success. And, any negative feedback given in the wrong manner, could end up giving them overall feelings of inferiority that will be difficult to overcome in the future. Stepmoms, they listen to you! You have to evaluate the way you deliver positive or negative feedback to them because you are helping to shape how they communicate with others for the rest of their lives, including how they will communicate with you in the future. Encourage them in any way you can! Be their cheerleader and I promise, they will always look for you in the stands of their life experiences for guidance knowing that you are a positive role model in their lives. Understand that a social life is important in their development and that means that not only will you be driving them to social events, but you will also be evaluating these social events for appropriateness. VIRTUE = COMPETENCE
5. Identity vs. Role Confusion: (12-18)- Realizing that their parents won’t clothe and feed them forever, kids begin to think about what they want to do with their lives. Who they want to identify with and how they want to establish themselves in this world become a priority. You may have to send your daughter upstairs ten times to change before hanging out with her friends, and your son will want you to take him to the mall to buy some new clothes (but only for him…he has no time for anyone else!). Choices they make to fit in with friends may end up with negative consequences resulting in unhappiness. Sexual identity is explored. In other words, they don’t use the term cooties anymore although you try to convince them that the opposite sex still has them! Stepmoms, this is a scary age for any parent! Peer pressure, dating, fear of the future, first jobs, driving, body image, are only SOME of the issues you will help your stepchild deal with during this stage. Supporting your stepchild by listening and adding your opinion when asked will help them get through it. Communication with bio dad and mom is huge during this stage. Be careful not to become their "friend" because you may get caught in a situation that you don't want to be in. Make sure that they know that you and your husband stand together on your beliefs regarding expectations of them during this stage and the ramifications of not meeting the expectations. They need to know that you and your husband are a team. It's a difficult relationship because they need to be able to trust you as they confide in you, however; they also need to realize that anything they tell you that you feel their bio parents should know will be communicated to the bio parents. VIRTUE = FIDELITY
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation: (18-40): Just when you wonder if he/she ever finds a partner in which a serious relationship will ensue, you are introduced to “the one” whom they met in the grocery aisle, and you’re left watching Father Of The Bride late at night with a box of tissues. As we all know, there are some highs and lows during this stage. Experience with relationships can lead to positive or negative feelings of commitment and safety within future relationships. Negative relationship experiences can end in isolation and depression. Stepmoms, during this stage, you are still the parental figure but your relationship broadens from one of discipline and guidance to support and advice. Remember, you are still viewed as a parental figure so don't burden them with your personal issues. Save those details for a good friend or your spouse. They may be getting older but they still look to you as a safe place for direction. Invest in the people they choose to date or even marry because that will prove to strengthen your relationship even more. Reach out to them to show them that you care and think about them even though you may not see them often anymore. VIRTUE = LOVE
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation: (40-65)- Generally our careers are established, we watch HGTV and Family Feud every night with the person we have chosen to settle down with, and we pray that our kids don’t join the failure to launch epidemic of modern society. One of our biggest priorities is to raise respectful children who contribute to society. We become those parents who volunteer at the local blood drive and foster 20 dogs at a time to keep them from being euthanized. We enjoy giving back to other people in this world through community groups and organizations. Stepmoms, I'm 43 and I still look to all of my parental figures their wisdom and love. I don't think you ever outgrow that. When I talk to them on the phone, I still feel like that little girl asking them all of the "why" questions that drove them crazy! Don't ever think that your stepchildren don't want you to care or pay attention to their lives anymore. If you have established a bond with them, they will expect and need that bond to exist forever. VIRTUE = CARE
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair: (65+)- Senior coffees and RV living. We reflect on our accomplishments and the success of our lives. If at this point, we don’t feel a sense of accomplishment, we can become hopeless and depressed. We realize death is reality and begin to accept that fact without fear. Stepmoms, at this point it's pretty self-explanatory. Drink wine and enjoy! VIRTUE = WISDOM
There you have it.
A little review, in my own words, of the stages of psychosocial development that helps to explain why we, our kids, and our stepkids act the way we do.
Remember stepmoms, if there were any interruptions within any of these stages, your stepchild might not have moved through the stages as Erikson has described above.
That’s why it’s important to know them and understand where your stepchildren are in the process and the virtues that they have established.
And, it’s even more important to educate our husbands about these stages since he is the bio parent who is ultimately dealing with the stepchildren.
On the other hand, to have fulfilling and growing relationships within our blended families, it’s important for you to understand and accept the stage you are in as well.
Yes, you may have to work on some things too to create an environment in which you can all reside.
But in the end, it’s all worth it.
Check out my Psychosocial Development Powtoons video on the front page of slefler.com.
It explains all of these stages in a quick and entertaining way!