Structured Stepfather Needs to Lean In to Stepson’s Water

Dear Five Faces: I’m a widow and about a year ago I married a divorced man we’ll call Ted. My son Sam and I moved in with Ted, who shares joint custody of his two very active teenagers. The blended family thing is working out pretty well except for one big problem: Sam is miserable. I’m an Earth, I’m pretty sure Ted is a Wood, and Sam is a ten year old Water. In an effort to bond, Ted wants to play ball with Sam and take him to sporting events or war movies, but Sam just isn’t into those things. He likes his time alone to read and draw. I’ve tried to explain to Ted about the elements, but he just rolls his eyes and questions whether we’re going to raise a wimp. How can I help Ted and Sam get along? I love them both. Signed, Worried in Washington

Dear Worried: Well, this is interesting. Wood and Water relate to each other on the Flow Cycle, so you’d think their relationship would be naturally nurturing. And it often is. However, because this particular Wood/Water relationship is a parent/child connection (or at least step-parent) where the child feeds the adult on the Flow Cycle, it’s a subtler affect. It’s important, though, and we’ll come back to it in a minute. But first, we’re going to talk about the most dramatic dynamic between Wood and Water, and that’s the concept of structure.

Woods and Waters usually differ radically in their approach and appreciate of structure. Woods are very structured and quite focused on productivity. Waters are very “go with the flow” and don’t need or necessarily like structure of any kind. In fact, if they’re really balanced, Waters usually don’t plan and are willing to trust the outcome of anything. Woods, on the other hand, love plans. For most Woods, plans propel them forward, define their expectations, and provide the needed assurance that they’re never out of control. Going with the flow not only lacks control, but can seem undirected or even lazy to Woods.

For Ted as a Wood, not only will he appreciate structure, he will enjoy games and competition, especially if he (or his team) wins. And if Ted’s children have turned out well, he might also expect that Sam will turn out well if he takes the same structured, competitive approach with him as he did with them. But of course, the last thing Sam’s Watery soul will appreciate is competition and structure. Quiet, individual activities will be completely natural for him. And if anything looking like structure tries to contain him, Sam will probably quietly flow around it any day of the week. Which of course, is likely to frustrate a Wood with expectations. So what do you do?

Ted is the adult, so have a chat with him. Even if he doesn’t buy into the Five Elements as personalities, he will certainly appreciate that each individual has a unique personality. Use your own knowledge of Waters and their tendencies to explain what matters to Sam. Help Ted see that he needs to honor Sam’s priorities and use this information to build a bridge. I’m sure Ted will understand this.

Next, subtly suggest activities to Ted that will resonate with Sam and put a bit of an “accomplishment” vibe on them. For example, Waters frequently enjoy stamp collecting and a Wood can appreciate the quest of finding those few missing stamps to complete a category. And if Sam is into art, Ted might consider taking and finishing a drawing class with him (as long as he’s clear he can’t compete with Sam). Photography and music are other creative endeavors Waters usually appreciate. Perhaps Ted could embrace some involvement with those and use it as a bonding opportunity with Sam.

palm treeIf Ted can stop expecting Sam to be like his children and enjoy this different parenting opportunity, their Flow Cycle relationship will kick in and Ted will probably feel surprisingly nurtured by his time with Sam. I’ve seen it happen again and again. Encourage your Wood husband to lean in to Sam in ways that are meaningful to a Water and I believe all will be well. Good luck!

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