So many families, these days, include step-children. However, the image of the ‘wicked step-mother’ (or father) is alive and well! Can you deal with this, or does it pose a real threat to your relationship.
The answer to the great majority of life’s dilemmas starts with ourselves. If you are, or contemplate becoming, a step-parent, you need first of all to be clear about what’s going on in your own mind. Look at the following questions.
1) Do you hope to become a substitute parent? This may be possible if the original parent is out of the picture and the child, or children are young enough. But if you have your heart set on it, you could be courting disappointment and unhappiness. Children can be difficult enough as it is. When there is the image of a ‘lost’ or absent parent to compare with the reality of everyday life, they are likely to idealize this image and even use it as a weapon. It is sometimes far better to enter the relationship accepting that you are not going to take on a totally parental role, and take it from there.
2) Are you jealous of your step-children? The bond between a parent and a child is a unique one, and there will undoubtedly be times when your new partner will seem to be putting his or her child before you. This can be especially hard to understand if you are not a parent yourself. Jealousy can be hell to deal with partly because it is unpleasant to own up to! It may not seem very ‘nice’ to be jealous of a child, but it is perfectly natural, normal and common. So face up to your feelings and deal with them in your own way, rather than rationalizing them and having them spill over into family life, disguised as ‘discipline’ for instance.
3) Do you dislike your step-child/ren? Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t ‘love’ your step-children. Don’t be hard on yourself if you come close to hating them! Few things are more hateful than a teenager, hell-bent on disruption. It can also be doubly challenging when you know the ex-partner of your partner and can see their faults reflected in the offspring. All of this can be really difficult and each person needs to find a way to cope. Your mission is to find your way.
4) Are you expecting your new partner to support you in every way with regard to step-children? That relationship was there before you were, and you can’t expect to come first, however deeply committed you both are. Being a step-parent involves being especially ‘adult’ in a relationship and sometimes perhaps not having quite the degree of union and harmony that you might expect in a relationship. Your own self-esteem and self-confidence need to be solid. Deal with this.
5) If you are the one with the children, what are you expecting from your partner? A substitute parent? – read point 1). Someone who is always supportive and understanding? – read points 2) & 3). Someone with whom you can repair what went wrong in your relationship with the child/ren’s real parent and play Happy Families properly at last? Think about 4)
Starting out as a family with a new step-parent involves first and foremost, emotional honesty, followed by realistic expectations.
• Discuss all your feelings, even the less pleasant ones, with your new partner, and be as open as you can.
• Decide how you will deal with situations as they arise. It is important that you present as united a front as possible when it comes to what you expect from the children, and how you will deal with it when things go wrong.
• If the children are old enough, involve them in discussions and decision-making, as much as you can.
• Take practicalities very seriously. For instance, having a house that is big enough for everyone to have their space. Step-siblings sharing a room, for instance, could be disastrous. Everyone needs to have a bolt-hole for when things get tough, so they can go and recover.
• Be clear about boundaries and areas of responsibility. For instance, parental responsibility includes pocket money, school events, aspects of behavior etc. Hopefully you will share these, but not necessarily. How the house is treated is another matter, for that is the province of each of the adults and a step-parent has every right to insist that his or her property be treated respectfully by anyone, step-child or not.
• After all of these considerations, don’t expect trouble! Step-families can be great fun and can bring laughter, new friendships and enduring bonds to parents and children that have been through tough times. Keep smiling!
Needless to say, if there are problems that you can’t seem to resolve and which seem to be flash-points between you and your partner, our insightful readers at The Circle are always there to throw new light on your dilemmas.
PUBLISHED: 20 October 2014