Getting remarried? Are a couple of stepchildren and an ex-spouse part of the bargain? And how do the kids feel?
Health24’s new Step-Parenting Forum has been abuzz, because being a step-parent is obviously more difficult than people expect it to be.
We asked the experts from the Family Life Centre for some info and advice. We also let step-parents and stepchildren speak for themselves.
Some common misconceptions include the following:
Common second-marriage difficulties
- You can open yourself up to loving new stepchildren fairly easily.
- Step-families should be the same as nuclear families.
- Death of a spouse makes adjustment easier.
- Stepchildren are easier to deal with if they are sent away (for example to boarding school).
- All stepmothers are wicked (as in nursery rhymes and fairytales).
- Divorce ends the relationship between parents.
- The new wife has an obligation to perform the domestic chores for her husband and his children when they turn up.
Second marriages, especially ones where there are stepchildren involved, are different to first marriages. Here’s why:
- Differences regarding disciplinary tactics and values make many a step-parent’s life difficult. Read what this desperate stepmom has to say.
- In a first marriage a couple has time to develop and consolidate their relationship before children are born.
- In step-families the couple frequently has very little time to themselves and no time to consolidate their own intimacy and closeness.
- Often the biological parent feels considerable guilt about the trauma he/she has imposed on the children and so tries to overcompensate for this, frequently causing resentment in his/her partner.
- Differences in expectations of each other and of the family can cause conflict.
- Often communication is not clear and honest.
- There may be difficulty with problem-solving.
- Confusion over roles and rules, and beliefs about what is important in life, can cause conflict.
- The couple needs time to adjust to each other's personalities, styles of behaviour and differences.
A stepchild speaks
Having your parent remarry someone you did not choose, is a very painful experience. This stepchild speaks out on our forum.
The Family Life Centre made these points when it comes to the child’s experience of getting a step-family:
- They experience anger at the re-marriage as their fantasy of their biological parents getting back together is shattered.
- The children may still feel sad or angry at the loss of their original family.
- The children fear that this marriage too won't last, so they withhold too much investment in this family.
- They frequently feel guilty about causing the first divorce and fear a repetition.
- They feel ambivalent about the new step-parent, both wanting and not wanting the marriage. This often results in disruptive behaviour.
- There is considerable role confusion when a child moves from a single-parent home to one where a new parent and possibly new step-siblings have to be accommodated.
- The children often experience divided loyalties and they fear betraying the biological parent of the same sex as the step parent if they like him/her.
- There is confusion over different styles of parenting.
The ex that won’t go away
Read how a former wife and her family are making this step mom’s life a misery. When do these situations arise?
- Where the couple have not emotionally divorced each other conflict often arises between the spouse and ex-spouse for the husband/wife's attention. Even where there has been an emotional divorce the frequent contact between former spouses can produce considerable anxiety in the new spouse.
- The new marriage will have to accommodate the fact of the ongoing parenting relationship, but without a strong couple unit in the new marriage, this is not possible.
- The children need to continue their relationships with both parents as well as with their grandparents, aunts and uncles. For the step-family to survive, the support and approval of these people is invaluable.
Here are a few survival tips for new step-parents:
- Find time to spend on your own.
- Talk about expectations and fears.
- Don't try to change too much too quickly.
- Develop your own relationship with each child.
- Recognise the importance of the non-custodial parent.
- Allow the children to have a special relationship with their biological parent.
- Be flexible and co-operative about different rules and different disciplining styles.
- Don't expect to be close - all that can be expected is politeness.
- Go for counselling – individual counselling, couples counselling and/or family counselling. Do whatever it takes.
(Joanne Hart, Health24, July 2007)
(Source article by: Family Life Centre, Gauteng)