“Blended families” is a relatively new term in history, but it (or step- families) has become part of every-day language in the last 50 years. In a sense, the blended family has become synonymous with a wicked step-parent or step-sibling of the “dysfunctional family” in our culture. Let’s not fool ourselves; our first exposures to blended families were poor examples. On one extreme, we had the evil fairy tale of Cinderella with a wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters. On the other end of the spectrum, we were presented with the “everyone lived happily ever after” fictional family–The Brady Bunch. But now, let’s get real!
Even Cinderella in her fairy tale world faced problems with her step-family. Blending a family can bring great conflict, and while no fairy godmother can provide instant solutions, parents can develop strategies for building unity in their blended family. Each member of the family has a role to play. Custodial parents should carefully assess the feelings of their children and encourage open communication. Meanwhile, potential step-parents should not have an agenda to “win over” a child; the best way they can show love is by treating the biological parent with affection and respect. Together, parents of blended families should establish equitable boundaries for all members of the household and develop traditions to help the two families become a single unit.
I am not saying there are no successful blended families. Obviously they do exist. But there’s a whole different set of problems and and social dynamics to work through. Some of the problems experienced by step-families are the following
- Perceived discrimination. That’s what the story of Cinderella is all about. The beautiful stepdaughter is discriminated against by a stepmother and stepsisters (all of whom happen to be ugly). The perceived villain in this relationship is most often the stepmother. According to some researchers, stepchildren of both sexes believe that stepmothers discriminate more than stepfathers. Some analysts think this is because a child expects instant love from a stepmother. The child’s expectation is unrealistic, so the stage is set for disappointment, guilt and resentment.
- Feelings of rejection. It is not uncommon for stepchildren to feel a sense of rejection. They may feel rejected by the stepparent, the natural parent or both. On the other side of the coin, the parents may feel rejected by their children. There are many reasons for these feelings of rejection. New family rules may be interpreted as rejection. Quite often when remarriage occurs, the two newly married partners are unsure about how to relate to the children in the new relationship. The fear of rejection actually leads them to do nothing. Sometimes the natural parent will adopt a protective stance toward his or her natural children. The child in turn may fear being the cause of a conflict between the natural parent and the stepparent.
- Fantasies. The beginning of a blended family relationship is nearly always accompanied by a period of fantasy. The step-parents believe they are rescuing the children from the trauma of a broken home. Their fantasy is that the children will be welcome, loved and adored by the stepparent who wants to supply the love they really need. The biological parents believe they now have a caring adult who will help them with parenting responsibilities. They believe the current spouse will overcome all the negative characteristics of a former spouse. The children on the other hand may think if they ignore this new person, he or she will go away. The children may still maintain the belief that their biological parents will get back together some day. All these fantasies tend to be unrealistic and when the dreams are exploded, a period of sadness can develop.
- Differences. Sooner or later all parties in the blended family become aware of differences in the living arrangements. Rules have to be negotiated, which can become an occasion for differences between spouses as well as children. Boundaries have to be determined. Such matters as the use of the telephone, curfew expectations, consequences for violation of the rules have to be determined. Privacy issues have to be agreed to. Whether the step-parent must be obeyed and what avenues are open to the step-parent to enforce obedience have to be worked out.
- Abuse. “Step-fathering is a difficult art to master. Apparently fathers who have not been given an opportunity to bond with their children constitute a risk group for abuse. Most men are not aware of the psychological and physical demands fathering can make on them when they enter a second marriage where children are already present. Frustrated, they may direct their anger toward the step-kids.”
Before jumping into a blended family situation, take heed as to how well you and your partner solve problems together. This is going to become a huge factor in the overall success of your blended family life. Couples really need to discuss the roles that each parent will play in raising their children or changing household rules beforehand. Building family relationships takes time. In fact, it often takes four to seven years before most blended households stabilize.
For a moment let’s think about the intriguing feature of a crazy quilt and the irregular patchwork. Open-door families are like that. Whether the family is blended by marriage, built by adoption or foster parenting, or even created in a group-home setting, the unexpected shapes result in a beautiful pattern.
Running a hand across the variety of textures in the patchwork — nubby corduroy, well-worn wool, slippery silk, plush velvet — exposes the richness of their combination. Because patchwork families don’t share genetic traits, sometimes the diversity is striking. All families have differences in temperament and personality, but they’re more noticeable in brothers and sisters who weren’t raised together from babyhood or who don’t share a common childhood. In our family, we not only enjoy these different textures, but our colors add interest as well, from fair-haired and blue-eyed to brown-skinned with black eyes.
The more intricate a pattern, the more it says about the quilt maker. Just as a much-worn patch from an heirloom quilt inspires a memory (“Like the blue wool from the dress Grandma wore when she met Grandpa”), the real magic of a crazy quilt happens when the quilt maker embroiders the pieces. Over the top of every seam is an intricate design of multi-colored embroidery. I’ve seen quilts that never repeat the same embroidery stitch, going from delicate feather stitches to blanket stitches to lazy daisy chains.
So as we grow up and get married we never dreams of maybe we will become a step-parent. It’s just not part of our “and they lived happily ever after” fantasy. Nor does society teach us an effective stepparent role. We make it up as we go.
But not all children feel negatively toward stepparents.
Let me share with you thoughts from a stepdaughter to her step-dad………………..
When I was four years old my father died, and two years later my mother met my step-dad. There were six of us kids to raise, plus he had tree from a previous marriage. When they got married he helped her raise us and treated us like his very own kids. I never knew my father. Ted was the only real father I ever knew. Though we have had our ups and downs I would never trade him for any father in the world.
Please remember when the “going gets tough” that all the hard work and discomfort of step-parenting can pay off. It probably won’t live up to the fantasy you have created, but it can be pretty good. Remember, there are both rewards and challenges; only determination will bring rewards.
We all like to know what is expected of us, especially regarding our family roles. Step-parents often discover that the ambiguous nature of their role leads to great frustration. Being a smart step-parent starts by knowing your place in the family.
Another woman names Jennifer, now a 28-year-old mother, reflects on how awkward it was at 13 to embrace her mother’s new marriage and the family’s move to a small Arkansas community. “It took me years to appreciate what my stepfather did for me,” Jennifer says. “He provided for us and loved me — even when I wouldn’t give him any credit. I just couldn’t let myself love him for a while. But eventually I relaxed and let him in, and now we have an awesome relationship. What a blessing he has been in my life.”
Finding your fit may not be easy, but take time and be patient. As your role becomes clearer, you can confidently begin building a closer relationship with your new children.
Here are some tips to help navigate being part of a Blended Family………..
Blended Family Tip #1. Give it time. People need time to adjust to a new family. Expecting step relationships to mature quickly creates unnecessary stress. It can take months and years for kinship and trust to develop in a blended family. Take some pressure off yourself and your family by expanding your time frame.
Blended Family Tip #2. Give credit to your partner. You committed to your partner because you believe he or she is worth spending your life with, give this person some credit when you receive feedback. If you find yourself getting defensive, it probably means that your partner has a point. A little humility here may open your eyes to see what you’ve never noticed before in your family. This may be the most productive and healthy step you can take.
Blended Family Tip #3. Know your limits. If your partner is not open to your ideas about his or her children, then consider that there is a limit to how much power you have. This limit is a good thing. A stepparent’s role is tricky. If you’re insistent on too much authority for yourself, you’ll find many obstacles ahead. Always ask yourself, “What is my role in this situation? How much power should I have?”
Blended Family Tip #4. See greatness. People making sincere efforts at blending families should be considered heroes. Everyone in a blended family has experienced the pain and loss of a family falling apart; they should be treated with dignity for any positive efforts and starting over. See the greatness in each family member and acknowledge their positive contributions to family life.
Blended Family Tip #5. Get real. Expectations are everything. If you expect your stepchildren to give you the appreciation you deserve, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Do your best for your family, but don’t expect to get all the credit you deserve. This is a tough one. Asking your stepchildren to appreciate you more than they do their natural parents is even tougher.
Blended Family Tip #6. Know your purpose. A sense of purpose sustains us through the tough times. Do you discuss mutual goals with your partner? Do you know what kind of life that you are aiming for? What are your shared values, hopes, dreams and vision for your future? Commonality on these fronts is the solid foundation that you can always fall back on.
Blended Family Tip #7. Work on yourself. At the end of the day, it all comes down to you. Foolish people blame others in the midst of their own self-blindness. With regard to the difficult areas in your family, look at yourself first. Where can you make changes? How can you grow and mature as a person? How does your behavior affect those whom you love? Answering these questions first is always a wise move.
A girl thanks God for her stepmother who is exactly the person she needed in her life.
Who would know a Step-Mother,
is someone you can really love.
I shall call her mother,
the name that suits her best;
Although my veins are not of her blood, She surpassed all the rest.
She loves and understands me,
and of course is my Best Friend,
She is soft, and kind, and loving, until our journey, here, shall come to an end.
The Lord has gave her to me,
She’s my comfort zone,
The Lord knows every need of his children,
and that I needed to be in taught in a new tone.
Quite a few heartaches for both my new mom and me,
We were put together for a reason, even if we cannot see.
We had both lost someone dear to us, and with God’s sweet guiding kiss,
He put together a family,
so we could love the ones,
that together, we missed.
Mother, I am sorry that you suffered all the strife in your life,
But God had a plan for me and you,
and made you my father’s wife.
I think about a little girl who’s mother’s love she would have missed,
And I feel the tears she felt,
when it was her brow you kissed.
I cannot say enough for all the times you cared,
Thank you for the tender moments that together we can now share.
My Mother she will be, forever and ever again,
She’s my shining Angel and most of all, forever, my friend.
Blended families are on the rise. These relationships can be difficult, but with a little time and a lot of patience, two families can successfully become one.
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