For many newlyweds, they not only gain a new spouse when they get married - they gain a whole new family, including stepchildren. Finding your place in your new family dynamic can be a wonderful but also challenging process. You may feel overwhelmed by the merging of two lifestyles, different relationship expectations based on families of origin, and different parenting models.
Now add to this, the angst, insecurity, and fear of the battle-worn and displaced children struggling to find their space in this new arrangement. Keep in mind, this is an arrangement that they neither asked for, nor, in many cases, wanted.
The main objective here is to act in your adult, and remember that all parents are entitled to parent – including stepparents. Also keep in mind that the only one that you can change is you.
Time to get real It is important to get real: you will always be a step away from parent. That means that there are children in your house, whether on weekends or all the time, that on some level, perhaps not even a subtle level, may wish you were not around. Children who want the two most central people to their existence - mother and father - back together again may feel at fault for the break up, and they may also see you as the main roadblock to their reconciliation.
Furthermore, these children may have inherited new step-siblings that they may not like, are jealous of, and have somehow found in their house. These children weren’t given a choice in the matter, and now a new family has formed instantly – with new rules and new people with whom they now must share their parent and all that attention. Talk about feeling out of control.
The Children If the child or children are young, they neither have the skills nor sophistication to cope. Here we have the perfect environment for acting out behavior, or worse – depression, free floating anxiety, underachievement, or repressed hostility at the parent who got them into this predicament in the first place. This anger may not express itself for many years, making it much harder to have a successful resolution.
The Ex Then, there is the final ingredient: the ex-mate. Ex is a terrible pronoun. It speaks of discount, invisibility, and no sphere of influence. Where once there was love and cooperation, now there may be fear and dislocation. Suddenly, the child sees someone else is in his mother's or father's life – and possession just might rear its ugly head. This can be a problem, and not an uncommon one at that.
Here is what I know: let go of guilt. You and your new husband or wife are one, and must not let anything or anyone put you asunder. So you must stick together, no matter what. The parent who doesn’t have full custody, often acts as the visiting parent, bearing residual guilt for the divorce – “guilt in search of a transgression,” – and may be fearful of losing the love of their children. As a result, they are more vulnerable to the manipulations of those children who are also often acting out of misplaced loyalty on behalf of their absent parent.
As one of our Founding Fathers, Patrick Henry, once said: “United we stand – divided we fall,” and never is that more true than in blended families.
In my next blog post, I'll share a quick list of some specific tips to help you ease into your new role as stepparent.