Presented by the Stepfamily Foundation.
Written by Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D., LCSW
- First marriages last an average of seven to ten years. Second marriages, only five. And many of these remarriages, which involve stepchildren—"step families"—split in the first year because of the strain and stress of combining family styles and values. Here are 10 steps to follow and remember.
- Recognize that the stepfamily will not and cannot function as a biological family. Don't try to place the expectations and dynamics of the biological family onto the stepfamily. That's like trying to play chess using the rules of checkers. Stepfamilies are JUST that much more complex.
- Recognize the hard fact that the children are not yours and they never will be. We're stepparents, not replacement parents. Mom and Dad (no matter how awful the biological parents) are sacred words.
- Super step parenting doesn't work. Go slow. Don't come on too strong.
- House rules, roles, forms and norms, and discipline styles must be discussed and agreed to by the couple as soon as possible, including the children's expected behaviors, manners, and duties in this house—whether they are just visiting or living at home. For example, the couple decides on the house rules, the biological parent disciplines, and the stepparent reminds, "in this house your dad/mom and I have decided that…" Developing couple strength and the ability to partner when only one partner is parent is perhaps the most difficult and important step.
- Be a parent, not a pal parent. Know that the greatest enemy of a child's well being is the lack of consistency and predictability. Divorced parents, without wanting to, bring this upon their children by trying to please, rather than being a parent. Guilt causes the parent to overindulge. The shame about the effects of divorce make a parent not a parent at all.
- Know that unrealistic expectations beget rejections and resentments. There is no model for the step relationship except for the wicked stepchild or the cruel stepmother of fairy tales.
- There are no ex-parents, only ex-spouses.
- Sexual bonds and blood bonds are often in conflict. In the intact family the couple "pulls together" for the sake of their child. In a stepfamily there often exists a conflict as to who comes first—my child or my sexual partner?
- What we call the conflict of loyalties follows right on the heels of the opposing forces of blood and sex. However, it involves more of the extended stepfamily. The child often feels, "If I like my stepparent, then I am not loyal to my biological parent."