Dr. Jeanette Lofas talks about the dynamics of the stepmother.
Dr. Jeannette Lofas talks about the Stepmother's most difficult role.
Statistics are Staggering: The majority of families have shifted from the original biologically bonded mother, father and child. We are now a nation in which the majority of families are divorced. Most go on to remarry or form living together relationships. We are a nation of step-relating families.
These families take a multitude of forms:
● Divorced with children; the children reside with one parent and visit the other. Most are dating or looking for new partners.
● Remarried, re-coupled, living together, with his and/or her children; He/she is in the role of stepparent.
● Single Mothers; re-coupled, dating and alone.
● Divorced Dads; these dads generally visit their children. Often they are re-coupled, bringing a stepmother figure into their children’s lives.
● The divorced biological father whose children visit is not counted. These children do not legally "reside" with their fathers. So, neither government, nor academic research counts these fathers and their children as stepfamilies.
Stepfamilies are not addressed, assessed and counted---further casting our society into: the loss of family traditions, like the family meal, the disintegration of parental roles, rules and values. The result a quagmire of "not-knowing."
The numbers tell the story: The US Bureau of Census relates:
I. The Stepfamily Cannot and Will Not Function as Does a Biological Family
The stepfamily has its own specific dynamics and behaviors.
Since we know no other there is a tendency to overlay the expectations and dynamics of the biological family on to the new stepfamily.
II. There is No Replacing the Biological Parent
In the stepfamily we cannot reconstitute the biological family. Mother and father are hallowed words and are determined by biological connections. A child often almost worships the biological parent no matter what that parent has, or has not done.
III. The Conflict of Loyalties
The Conflict of Loyalties occurs when the child or parent is torn between relationships involving a stepfamily member. The child feels a sense of betrayal of their biological parent when they begin to like their stepparent. "If I love you it means I don't love my real parent."
IV. The Prior Spouse
Somehow a prior spouse often turns into a negative character in the stepfamily. All too often a prior spouses are still angry. Issues revolve around bad-mouthing, visitation, the children, and money. The parents' anger damages the child’s self-esteem, often for years after the divorce.
Disciplinary problems are frequent in the stepfamily. Discipline does not just mean punishment. Discipline means guidance and direction. In an intact family, the couple has had time to decide on the modes and methods of discipline. Stepfamily couples are often conflicted in how to guide.
VI. Fear of Loss of Position
Often, each person has suffered a loss of position and territory. Many who live in step feel that their position is constantly threatened. Wanting to come first and vying for position are instinctual. The urgency to establish position and turf pulls heavily. Just as you've found your chair you find someone else sitting in it.
VII. Intrusion and Feeling like an Outsider
In step, everyone feels like an outsider. The insiders become outsiders and the outsiders become insiders. Everyone can feel intruded upon. The children can be felt as intruders on the new marriage. The new stepparent can be seen by the children as intruding on the biological child/parent relationship.
VIII. Job Descriptions
Most who live in step are not clear regarding the contributions and responsibilities they expect of each member of the stepfamily.
IX. Conflicting Pulls of Sexual and Biological Energies
In the intact family, the couple comes together and has a child. The child is part of BOTH parents and generally both parents pull together for the well being of the child. Most tend to dote over - any and all of their child's accomplishments. In step, blood and sexual ties can polarize the relationship in opposite directions. The natural parent is often torn between child and spouse. Additionally, the biological parent is denied the joys and rewards of caring for the child with the other biological parent. Furthermore, stepparents don't dote and often feel jealous of the natural parent's devotion and doting.
The sexual partner traditionally expects to come first in the spouse's life. This is automatic in the first marriage. In the second marriage, despite the fact that we know the partner comes with children, we still expect to feel like the most important person in our spouse's life. The children have often come first when their parent was single. The children are accustomed to this extra attention and may feel the parent's new partner is unjustly usurping their parent's time, energy and money. However, the couple must come first.
Visitation can be upsetting to everyone in a stepfamily. Parents often do not know how to handle the difficulties of visitation. Parents’ lack of predictability can cause visitation to be unpredictable and upsetting for the child.
XI. There Are No Ex-Parents. Only Ex-Spouses
We can never become an ex-parent. When we divorce we must be aware of something we label as the "separation triangle." We no longer relate as husband and wife; however, we continue to relate as mother and father, and must learn to co-parent.
In general, the absent biological parent, usually the father, suffers the greatest degree of guilt. He may feel that he never sees his child enough to make a difference. He failed at the marriage. His payments are never enough, according to the ex. A woman he no longer can influence nor cares for are raising his child. He feels the mother, his former spouse, may be poisoning the child against him. He suffers from the dreaded fear of losing his children.
The truth is that a certain percentage of absent biological parents actually do lose their relationship with their children. His fears have substance. In addition, his present wife can blames him for being too controlled by his former wife.
Too many fathers of divorce turn into Disneyland Dads. They may be tigers in the office, but they turn into a butler when their kids come to visit-- no discipline, overindulging, no guidance- in fact, many do not even notice when their own children are disrespectful to them.
The woman with children can feel guilty about giving her attentions to the new man in her life and away from her children. She works and she has little mothering time with her children. She also may feel there is just not enough of her to go around.
XIII. Stress and Step
We live in a stressful world. The resources to cope, which were once available are no longer. The increasing demands of the work can be compounded in a stepfamily.
Children are affected by the unrecognized stresses of visitation. They are further stressed by the lack of structure and the uncertain expectations of adults.
XIV. Blaming of Others and Self
Hundreds of times, we have seen people blame themselves, their spouses and the children for behaviors that are endemic to the stepfamily. Its dynamics are too often "name-less negatives."
XV. The Children are Pulling this Relationship Apart
The major presenting problem for those we counsel at the Stepfamily Foundation is, "We love each other but our reactions to one another's children are threatening our relationship." This dynamic is seldom experienced in the biologically connected family. It is a primary cause for the extraordinarily high failure rate in step relationships. Statistics indicate that the failure rate of remarriages with children is 2 out of 3.
ABOUT: The Stepfamily Foundation, Inc
It is the first organization to address the blended/stepfamily from all points of view.
We have developed a management technique, which results in an 84 % success rate for our remarried families.
In a recent Esquire article, Tony Robbins, a self-help guru, made a bold suggestion that some women are using the movement as a way to take advantage of the situation. He said,
“If you use the 'MeToo' movement to try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else, you haven't grown an ounce. All you've done is basically use a drug called significance to make yourself feel good."
Shortly after being sharply criticized from many women, Robbins issued an apology in explaining that his intention was to never place any discredit on the movement.
Robbins bespeaks a ground spell of anger that is becoming evident in a variety of men.
As women, we are responsible for the conversation regarding the #MeToo movement. Somehow, without intending, our communication has created enemies and not allies.
As women, we must ask ourselves: what is the best way of communicating? What is the best way of languaging to get the outcome we want?
This specific form of talk has been our quest via our book He's OK, She’s OK and on our Facebook sister page Gender Honoring Differences. Check it out.
Men As Allies
In my practice, a number of men have related that they were selected to attend a diversity training course. When asked about their thoughts, here is what they reported:
“It was awful. The facilitator had beaten up on me and my male colleagues. It boiled down to one accusation: It's all your fault.”
Author Joanne Lipman similarly reports: “I've heard this again and again. I've seen self-assured, confident men curl into a defensive crouch when the subject of women - or God forbid - the phrase ‘gender equality’ has come up.”
What's been done has resulted in rage, male-bashing and shaming, according to many. Men are recoiling from what is the current message of diversity.
It is our mission to teach the daunting lessons of male/female communication specifics. These insights when practiced will furnish delight and positive powerful communication between men and women.
Stay with us in the "HOW" for more info.
Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D, LCSW
President and Founder of Stepfamily Foundation, Inc., Dr. Lofas has been managing stepfamilies for thirty years. In 1995 Lofas received a presidential award for her work. Research reports that she has an 84% success rate. A stepchild and stepmother herself, she is considered to be the leading authority on stepfamilies. Dr. Lofas has written five books: Living In Step, McGraw-Hill, Stepparenting, Citadel, How to Be a Stepparent, Nightingale Connant; He's OK, She's OK: Honoring the Differences Between Men & Women, and Tzedakah, Family Rules, Kensington Books.