Five Stepfamily Saboteurs; Unspoken Assumptions That Derail The Best of Intentions
1. I WILL LOVE MY STEPKIDS AS MY OWN
Bonding is a process that takes time. Biological parents begin this process before a child is even born. Their relationship begins with love, not loss. Infants are fully dependent upon their parents and thus bond to them immediately in order to have their needs met. Children are different, they’ve developed some independence and they hold fierce loyalties to their parents. They won’t make it easy to love them. The more pressure you put on yourself, the more you are setting yourself up for guilt and resentment.
2. STEPPARENTS ARE PARENTAL FIGURES
While this may happen over time, it shouldn’t be your goal. There is a possibility it will never happen, and that’s okay. Going in to a new family expecting to carry the same authority and respect your spouse receives is an unrealistic expectation. By recognizing this early and letting the kids “off the hook” you will ease their anxiety and spare yourself the disappointment. I recommend you consider yourself not a friend to their stepkids, but more like a close aunt or uncle, someone that is due respect and courtesy but doesn’t carry the authority of a parent (at least not in the beginning).
3. MY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT BECAUSE MY STEP KID’S OTHER PARENT IS ABSENT
It may seem logical that your stepkids will accept you quicker if their own biological parent is absent but this is not necessarily so. There are a lot of variables that will influence how your stepkids respond to you. In many situations, kids harbor unrealistic expectations that their parents will reunite. You may be seen as the barrier keeping the other parent away. In the case of a deceased parent, a child may be more protective of the memory of that parent since the surviving parent has moved on with life.
4. IT WON’T BE A PROBLEM FOR US BECAUSE MY NEW SPOUSE’S KIDS ARE GROWN
Grown kids are still kids. People process things in their own way and at their own pace. If an adult-child has not yet come to term s with their parent’s divorce, or the death of a parent, they will have a lot of work to do before they are ready to accept mom or dad’s new love. In addition, grown children get settled into life and have more trouble adapting. If their parent has been single for a long time it may be difficult for them to trust your “motives”. If there is money involved, they may be concerned about the impact you will have on their inheritance. If this is an issue, you may want to address it with your spouse right away because the kids may be too embarrassed or afraid they’ll look selfish.
5. THE IN-LAWS WILL LET GO OF THE EX WHEN I MARRY INTO THE FAMILY
Your parents-in-law and sisters and brothers-in-law may continue to have a relationship with your spouse’s ex. After all, the ex is the parent of their grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Including the children in their special occasions and celebrations may require the presence of their other parent. It’s unrealistic to think they should end their relationship with the ex just because your spouse did. They shouldn’t have to choose between the two of you. If you want them to accept you, then you must accept them.
founder of Blackwell Family Resources, LLC helps newly remarried parents establish strong stepfamilies that last. She earned her coaching certificate from the International Coach Academy and is further certified as a Stepfamily Foundation Coach. Her specialized training includes Family Dynamics, Effective Parenting and Mediation.