Blended Family: Preparing for the Stepparent Role
The Old English origin of the word step comes from “loss” and when the word was originally used in conjunction with (step)child it signified orphans. The association of loss with stepfamilies is true and so important to understand, especially when you are a stepparent.
Stepfamilies in the Past
Long, long ago stepfamilies were born out of necessity. A wife or husband died and the surviving spouse remarried out of economic or social needs. The widow needed a provider for her and her children. The widower needed someone to care for his children who no longer had a mother to look after them. Expectations of why the remarriage was occurring was clear. Each adult had a duty. Typically, there wasn’t a lot of choice involved and therefore not a lot of emotion.
Stepfamilies in the Present
Today, stepfamilies are formed out of choice and with that choice comes a plethora of emotions and expectations. As the stepparent, we marry our mate because we love them and want to share our life with them. We understand that marrying someone with children means that we are committing to nurture and parent their children. We love our spouse and therefore we have a love for their children and want a relationship with them.
For the children involved, becoming a stepfamily means the loss of a dream. When one of their parents remarries, it signifies that their mother and father will not be getting back together.... a very typical fantasy of children whose parents divorce or never married. For those children who have experienced the death of a parent, the stepparent most likely cannot live up to the memory. Stepparents enter the marriage with love goggles superglued to their face while the kids are grieving (again) the loss of the family that once was and/or the fantasy of the family that will never be.
This isn’t to say that stepfamilies can’t be successful. They absolutely can be and most are very loving, secure homes. But it’s important to understand how stepfamilies originate and why there are challenges and struggles especially in the beginning of stepfamily life.
Stepparents often view themselves as a bonus in the lives of their stepchildren. On the flip side, stepchildren often view a stepparent as an added complication in their life. Stepparents need to understand the loss the kids are feeling when they become a part of their life. Stepchildren may transfer their pain and frustration to their stepparent because the reality is that they are a part of their lives by their parent’s choice not by a decision the child made.
Understanding that when we marry a person with children, we also marry their children’s loss and pain. Enjoy and embrace the love that you have found in your spouse. But be cognizant of the loss that your stepkids are experiencing. While you may be the best addition to their lives, they may not view it that way. Give them time to adjust and accept you. Small steps will lead to big gains over time.
Have you become a stepfamily? What challenges did you and your family face? What has helped your family overcome the challenges?
Latest posts by Heather Hetchler (see all)
- Blended Family: Stepfamily Life Through a Child’s Eyes - April 27, 2011
- Blended Family: Preparing for the Stepparent Role - April 6, 2011