Step Families – the Trouble With Expectations
Step families have their own version of a “happily ever after” myth – generally there’s an expectation that the remarriage will heal the family from the trauma of divorce. My son was nine, and my husband’sdaughter was six when we married; in my mind we were creating a perfect family of four, just as I had always wanted. It was a lovely expectation, only a totally unrealistic one.
Within a month, my husband and I were meeting in the kitchen during turmoil- filled evenings, asking one another, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” Our children were doing their best to play us off one against the other, and we were buying right into the “my kid vs. your kid” ploy. Our perfect family of four was spiraling downward fast!
Another expectation is the idea that “you love me, so you’ll love my child(ren)”. Again, we have high hopes of creating a loving family, expecting that the stepparent will simply pick up the role of the parent, and that the children involved will accept the stepmom or stepdad in that role. Unfortunately, the biological bond that we have with our own child isn’t automatically transferred to an unrelated child, just because they happen to live under the same roof and be strongly connected to the person we’ve committed to live our life with. A loving bond can and often does build, but in the case of a stepfamily, that bond is best built slowly and carefully, rather than assumed.
In our case, both of these situations improved over time, but much heartache could have been prevented if we had not made assumptions that got us into a heap of trouble. My husband and I learned the value of couple strength, and began to make agreements together so that we provided a united front to our children; over time we stopped taking sides and they stopped trying to pull us apart. (They actually have reasons for doing so which are quite valid from their standpoint – but that will be addressed in another article). And through providing the “acts of love” that are part of the stepmom role, and learning to appreciate her unique qualities, I found that my love for my stepdaughter grew.
One of the causes for the poor statistics for stepfamilies is the unrealistic expectations we take into our second marriage. Unrealistic expectations can wreak havoc on a new, fragile family. The rules of living in a merged family are different than the rules of an intact family. In our society, there is little preparation given for understanding the dynamics in stepfamilies. Training is needed by nearly 100% of new stepfamilies, but less than 5% get the help they need. The dynamics are predictable and well-researched, but not generally understood.
Often, it’s a shock when the dating process ends (everything was going so well!) and everyone moves under the same roof as a family. Suddenly, a whole new paradigm is in place, and we might find yourself on shaky ground. If you find that things are not as smooth as you expected them to be, you probably had some unrealistic expectations. Getting some coaching or training can help you to develop a more realistic approach to your stepfamily that works better – an excellent resource is www.stepfamilysolutions.com.
Joan Sarin, M.S, a social psychologist is a certified Stepfamily Coach trained by the Stepfamily Foundation in New York. She is a… (Bio)