There are times in our lives where we have used the power of our words and unknowingly hurt another person.
I did just that to my stepson when he was nine years old. It wasn’t until many years later when I studied family systems and dynamics that I understood why my words created such a strong reaction in my stepson.
One day while my stepson was talking to his father and I, he made a comment about his brother and sisters. They are actually his half siblings since they are the children of his biological mother and her second husband.
In my great wisdom (NOT!) and as a new stepmother, I felt the need to correct him by saying “They are not your real brother and sisters” He immediately got defensive and then started to cry.
Needless to say that conversation was a bust… however not a complete loss.
Years later as I entered into the field of family mediation, I had a particular interest in understanding stepfamilies and in doing so, I began to notice that people in stepfamilies had different ideas about who their family consisted of.
With the aid of genograms in my stepfamily mediation and stepparent coaching sessions, couples and their families created a visual of their stepfamily tree.
What was particularly interesting and telling was to hear and see who the step couple and who the children included as family.
The children’s genograms had so many more people in their family including step-aunts and uncles, cousins and even people who are not biologically related to either parent but the children know them as “aunt” or “uncle”.
The stepfamily couple on the other hand had a much smaller genogram with a more narrowed definition of family. Some only included the children who lived with them full time, others didn’t include stepchildren at all (as in a case where the biological father did not have any correspondence with his children and his partner defined the terms of family)
Learning to work with genograms provided me with the insight I needed to understand my stepsons reactions to my cruel and hurtful words “They are not really your brother & sisters”. My idea of family at that time was the three of us. His half siblings lived in another Province. I didn’t know them, never met them and it was basically “out-of-site/out-of-mind”.
Here is an updated version of what my genogram looks like:
Had my stepson created his genogram it would have filled 11 pages!
His stepfather was one of 10 children in his family. His stepfathers brothers and sisters were special people in my stepson’s life and he would have wanted to make sure they were all included as were his step cousins.
My heartless words crushed his sense of “family” and his belonging…. had I only known!
Yes, knowing then what I know now, I wished I had a “do-over” which is perhaps why I’m sharing my story and mentioning genograms since it is my hope that couples in stepfamilies learn to understand how unknowingly as parents they may say or do things that have a lasting impact on their relationships.
If you are interested in learning to use genograms and create an open dialogue about family, my e-book Stepfamily Struggles/Stepfamily Strategies walks you through the process as well as give readers guidelines to help create meaningful conversations. Click here to learn more about my e-book.