|Love Occurs Instantly Between the Child and Stepparent|
|Stepmothers Are Wicked|
|Children Adjust to Divorce and Remarriage More Easily If Biological Fathers or Mothers Withdraw|
The television show The Brady Bunch, though often cute and funny, did a disservice to those contemplating or already living in stepfamilies. There are many myths about stepfamilies, including the fantasy that two separate families effortlessly and smoothly "blend" together to form one family unit. However, this takes time, patience, commitment and determination to grow into a cohesive family group. Research on stepfamilies tell us the normal time span is usually four years, but can take up to seven years.
The scenario in my office usually goes like this: A couples come to my office for help because of tensions in their newly formed family. They appear confused, dumb-founded, almost dazed. One spouse, most often the stepparent moans that he/she just doesn’t understand it. While they were dating there were no conflicts between them and the kids. Then they get married and boom, everything changes! The couple is genuinely distraught and often not prepared for some rocky times ahead. These challenges are actually the normal process of stepfamily growth.
Having unrealistic expectations is probably the most common stepfamily issue that I see in my practice. This includes the myth that stepchildren will automatically love their stepparents and vice versa. When the final commitment is made, often the children must give up their fantasy wish that their parents will someday reconcile. Reality hits hard and often they are angry. The stepparent may bear the brunt of this anger. After all, the stepparent will never be the "real parent.” It takes an adult with a strong sense of self, unwavering patience and a desire to gradually develop a relationship with the child to successfully navigate these murky waters more smoothly.
Below are three common stepfamily myths from the book Stepfamilies Stepping Ahead: An 8 Step Program for Successful Family Living by Mala Burt.
An expectation exists that because you love your partner, you will naturally love his or her children and they will instantly love you. This expectation often sets up a family for failure as partners then question what is wrong with them. The answer is nothing is wrong with you. Relationships take time and there are many positive steps you can take to develop it.
Many fairy tales tell us so. This negative concept may make stepmothers very self-conscious about their step parenting. It can cause confusion about our roles. Stepfamily research tells us that stepmothers have the most difficult role in the stepfamily.
Children will always have two biological parents and will have an easier adjustment if they have access to both. They need to see them and think well of them. This is important for their emotional health; except in those instances of parental abuse or neglect.
As a stepfamily therapist, I generally work with the parents first because I have found that once they are functioning as a team, the problems usually dissipate. It is important to validate each spouse’s feelings; frequently the biological parent feels torn between his/ her children and spouse while the stepparent feels neglected and like a third wheel. They need reassurance that they are not terrible parents and can learn skills that will nurture their stepfamily into a cohesive family unit. Most importantly, they need to understand the process takes both time and patience. But, if they persevere and commit for the long haul, great rewards can be realized in the end. It’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
- About Healthy Parenting
- Healthy Parenting Current Trends
- Healthy Parenting: Your Options
- Healthy Parenting: How Social Workers Help
- Healthy Parenting Tip Sheets
- Resources on Healthy Parenting
- Healthy Parenting Real Life Stories