Stepfamilies and their challenges.
Currently, stepfamilies make up about fifteen percent of all families here, in the UK. In the U.S. this percentage reaches up to thirty. It’s been growing continuously since the year 2000. It is closely related to other mechanisms and changes noted in a society which are more popular in the twenty-first century than were before. Increased number of divorces, civil partnerships, same-sex couples, concubinage - all of these influenced expanses of stepfamily existence. But what actually is stepfamily? It is a family made of parents with children from their previous relationships. Stepfamilies are also called blended families or bonus families. As we can see by the statistics, this formation is nothing unusual, it’s just one of few well-known family structures.
Although all types of families have their problems and face challenges, stepfamilies take a special place in this category. The main reason for this uniqueness is their rich with experiences background. Every member of stepfamily has gone through many emotionally demanding events that can be affecting their behaviour and self-comfort. Hence that, relationships in the new family will be tested in many ways and require a lot of work and commitment from every member.
Stepping into the relationship with single parent needs real maturity from both partners. So far only parent has been facing difficulties related to raising children by his/her own, where most responsibilities were relying on shoulders of just one person. Children of divorced parents have a little bit different needs than their peers and are more challenging to deal with. Low self-esteem and emotional instability of divorced person and children require a strong will, lots of love and patience to make this new relationship work.
Of course, no one who is entering new relationship does not want to think about failure and doesn’t consider potential challenges. This magical feeling, which is called infatuation, gives us the power to move mountains. However, this primary excitation is dropping down, and reality comes to the voice. Below you can see what you should be prepared for when getting into the relationship with a partner who is also a parent.
1. Don’t expect that you will be number one for your partner.
In every relationship, we wish to be number one, and this is absolutely normal. It also should be that way. However, when your family is getting bigger and newborn babies appear, priorities are slightly changing. It does not mean that you are not the most important person in the world, but it means, that your needs can be met with a little delay comparing to baby’s needs. It is precisely the same mechanisms when comes to stepfamilies. Even if your relationship is fresh and full of excitement - your partner’s children will always be one step ahead. You have to fully accept and understand this fact as this will never change.
2. Don’t try to ‘buy’ children’s acceptance.
You have probably seen this before, on TV programmes, films or maybe within your surrounding.
People think (especially men) that if they toady to partner’s child, they will gain its respect and sympathy, which will lead them straight to the heart of the beloved one. Why? It's related to the very natural process. Conscious single mothers will never get into a relationship with a man, who is not attached to their children or shows negative behaviours towards them. ‘Buying’ children’s acceptance may have different side effects if it is not genuine. One of them, and probably the most obvious is that children are excellent mind readers. They observe and pick up things that we would never imagine. They feel strong and can easily guess whether our intentions are pure or not.
3. Don’t try to step up too quickly.
However being a real father or mother of your stepchildren is ideal, you can’t forget that they know what your family model is. They need time to get used to the new situation and new family member that is taking a lot of children’s life - parent’s attention and space at home. Let them to know you and to understand that you want to be part of their life and you wish nothing but best for them and your partner. Your reassurance and positive behaviour over the time will establish a strong relationship between all of you and stepping into your new parenting role will be born instinctively- by children’s approval.
4. Children don’t hate you, but also don’t love you.
If you are facing resistance from your partner’s children and you feel some negative emotions towards you, don’t panic. It is normal, and genesis of this kind of behaviour regards to the past experiences. Their attitude can be compared to the barking dog (however it sounds). A dog which barks normally doesn’t bite. Children are trying to defend their unique bond with family and try to prevent any disturbance to come into their life. They’ve already gone through many upsetting events and know how it can disorganise life order. You are not a cause of their hate or negativeness. You are just a trigger that may bring back unpleasant memories.
You can be lucky enough that you will be very welcome, and feel a lot of sympathy and kindness. As mentioned above, it does not mean that you were loved from day one. This is even more challenging for you as children, who were suffering when parents divorced and had many unfavourable memories, gave you a credit of trust. This puts you under more pressure than you can think of. You have to work very hard not to lose this credit as if it happens, it may not be recovered ever again- this will, of course, reflect on to your relationship.