THE 7 REALITIES OF BEING A STEP-PARENT
Have you met someone wonderful and you are living together or even got married and you are trying to navigate the the reality of being a Step-parent to children who might struggle with you being on the scene. Being the second wife/husband/important person is a challenging role that you will have to equip yourself for and this article is purpose written to assist you.
One of the most important things to recognise is that there are 3-4 adults in this family. The other biological parent and perhaps their new partner also has a hand in the way the kids are raised, who has who on the weekends, what happens during holidays, family rituals, boundaries and rules so this might be tricky.
The relationship between the parent and child is unique and as the newest member to the family, you may have to earn your place. Recognise that as the step-parent, you will have less influence in decisions that impact the family. Now this might be a little frustrating and the stepfamily may well grow into something new and wonderful, but first you must all learn to compromise in order to be happy.
Make sure you are looking at the reality of the situation.
When your expectations of your new family and the reality of the situation which you are now in, simply do not align this can cause unhappiness and regret.
Most couples come into a stepfamily thinking that the family will soon settle into their own routine and and that they will be accepted and the family will be happy together. The alarming news is that this is rarely the case, so it’s important that you do not set your bar too high and you remove your rose coloured glasses.
Patricia Papernow is a leader in the field of stepfamilies has identified that the following fantasies can affect perception of the reality that may unfold.
• Step-parent: ‘We’ll be one big happy family. The kids will love me. I’ll love them back. I can’t wait for us all to be a family.’
• Biological Parent: ‘My partner will love the kids as much as I do and the kids will love him/her back. The kids will be so grateful for everything he/she gives this family.
• The kids: ‘It’s only a matter of time before mum and dad get back together. They actually love each other a lot and as soon as they realise that we can be a family again.” – This means that a Step-parent might be seen to be in the way.
This is all without even touching on the possibility that there might be an angry and emotional ex partner in the mix. From the above it is clear to see why some people will face disappointment along the way.
- Identify that rough patches are stepping stones not walls. There are going to be rough patches and that’s okay. Accept them as a sign of progress towards a new step-family with you in it. From time to time, you may feel like an outsider. You’ll probably even experience hostility, indifference or rejection from your step-kids and it is more than likely you’ll fight with your partner more than you expected over the children, your routines or small stuff. This could be a sign that you are letting small things take the blame for the larger emotions which you are feeling. This is normal. Accept it, let it unfold. Keep your eye on being the rainbow after the storm.
Understand that children feel loyal to their parent.
It’s normal for children to feel that their acceptance of you as a step-parent might bee seen as betrayal to their biological parent. They may need to reject and being hostile to you to ‘prove’ their love and loyalty to their biological parent.
If you suspect a loyalty issue, see it for what it is and don’t take it personally. Let your stepchild know that you aren’t trying to replace his or her biological parent and that you know nobody could ever do that. Let them know it’s okay to feel protective and that it is possible to care about you and love their other parent at the same time.
Create a new relationship
Don’t try to replicate the relationship your child has with their biological parent. You are a different person and you have your own ways of doing things and your own thoughts and feelings. It may take a while for your stepchild to accept this however this does present an opportunity to find new things in common with the kids. You might enjoy the outdoors and invite your Step-child on your daily run. This might become something you share that is different to what the child has with their biological parent.
Pick your battles
There will always be plenty to argue about, whether you are a step family or not. Decide on the things that are important to you and let the rest go. Push for gentle change on things that are super important to you and then back off and respect the rest of the family’s need for stability. Building a new family will take compromise and time from all parties.
Appreciate the small gestures.
Understand that it may be difficult for your stepchild to show affection to you due to their sense of loyalty or other reasons. This means that you have to look for the small signs that show they care. The affection may not be cuddles on the couch and that’s ok.
Be open to the possibility that you may never be close
The most important thing is that when your step-child is younger, you are committed to trying to make it work. Some experts feel that stepfamilies take about 4-12 years to exist as a truely happy family. Some family members might adjust better than others depending on age, gender and personality and that’s ok. You might need to focus on being kind to all and appreciative that you have found a partner that you wish to grow old with.
No family is smooth sailing all the time and the dynamics of a stepfamily present challenges from day one. It you go in eyes wide open and realise that your life might resemble and roller-coaster with climbs and falls along the way, you will learn to appreciate the sense of accomplishment at the end of the ride if you are willing to be a Step-parent.