There is nothing predestined about how we act in stepfamilies. Each family has its own ways of interacting and deciding who is going to play what role. Sometimes, a role dictates certain expectations, beliefs, and assumptions. It can be useful to examine these expectations to see if they’re realistic – and to see if we want to continue playing
Many a stepparent has been accused of trying to take a parent’s place in a child’s life. Many a parent has been accused of not doing enough for her child. Many a husband or ex-husband has been accused of bowing out and letting the women deal with the conflicts.
If you find that you are often frustrated by your position in the family, or if you feel disrespected by how others in the family system behave in their roles, you can look at some of the common pitfalls of that role to see if yours needs to be adjusted. One study suggested that most family members are unclear about what role the stepparent should play in stepfamilies.
When you’re thinking about the different roles, remember that you can ultimately only control what you do. You may be able to see very clearly how someone else should change, but you can only actually change how you behave. However, when you change the way you interact with people, usually, they’ll eventually change the way they interact with you.
If you try to keep your emotions at a manageable level, you’ll begin to see that there are not usually any clear-cut bad guys. Everyone is muddling along the best he or she can, doing what he or she believes is the right thing.
Everyone knows the story of the evil stepmother: casting her stepdaughter aside in favor of her biological girls, or sending a woodsman out to kill the stepdaughter because she’s the fairest in the land.
The fact is that stepmothers, like mothers, are mostly good to their stepchildren, mostly work very hard to do the right thing, mostly strive to be respectful of their stepchild’s mother, and work hard to make their new family work.
Studies have shown that stepmothers have the most difficult position in a stepfamily system. These women come to a new marriage, some of them for the first time, some of them without children of their own, and they try to make a new family. Stepmoms often end up being the ones to organize the family’s schedule, arrange vacations, do the clothes
The difficulties come on several fronts. Often, stepmothers end up feeling taken for granted by the husband and the child for the work they do. They feel like they’re given a lot of the work of raising a child without any corresponding affection and acceptance. When the mother adds in her own unhappiness about the stepmother’s involvement with the child, the stepmother often feels completely misunderstood and unappreciated.
Husbands, friends, relatives, and even the stepmother herself may expect that she jump right in and love the child as her own. The reality is that sometimes stepparents and stepchildren don’t even like each other – but everyone still has to live together, so try to find some ways to make it through.
Stepmothering dos and don’ts
Some moms end up feeling pretty bruised by the whole stepfamily dynamic. Mothers choose the fathers of their children; now, another adult is becoming a part of the child’s life and the mother had no say in picking this person. If the stepmother’s values or habits don’t seem to correspond well to the mother’s, it can be dreadful to have to send her child to the other household.
Mothers are often amazed at the things that their ex-husband allows his new wife to do for their child. It is maddening to mothers that the father doesn’t do more to care for his own child. Often, mothers blame the stepmother for forcing herself into the child’s life.
There are plenty of mothers who handle the presence of another woman in their children’s lives not only with
Mothering dos and don’ts
Overall, men tend to be less emotionally troubled than women in stepfamilies, but there are several challenges that fathers face. The biggest area that men struggle with is how much involvement they will have in their child’s life. This area is changing rapidly and it is becoming more common for men to have half-time or even full-time custody of their children.
Many men want to be involved parents, but they don’t have a good role model for what that means. When a mother makes it difficult for a father to be involved, she may not know how to negotiate for a more equitable arrangement.
There are a growing number of men’s support groups that help men not only with the legal and practical details of child
In addition to the potential for disputes between the two homes, dads often have to face conflict in their new stepfamily. Their wives may push for a change in the schedule, either for more or less time with the children. And when the children are with the father and the stepmom, the father may feel as if he’s performing a tightrope act – treading carefully to avoid upsetting the fragile balance of peace between his child and his wife.
Fathering dos and
When it comes to relations between the two homes, the stepfather often emerges relatively unscathed. There seems to be very little of the conflict between stepfathers and fathers that is so common between mothers and stepmothers. Men just don’t seem to have the same sense of turf protection when it comes to another man getting close to their child. A lot of times, fathers and stepfathers are friendly; even when that’s not the case, men are more likely to be reserved in their comments and actions. Stepdads may believe that their stepchild’s dad should be doing something differently, but stepfathers are also less likely to push for the change either directly or through their wives.
The biggest conflicts that stepfathers usually face are with their wives. There are often conflicts about discipline, about how much influence and what rank the stepfather should have in the household. Often, stepfathers believe that their wives are too lenient on the children, and stepfathers are often accused of being too harsh and of having unrealistic expectations of the stepchild.