The Step Family: Challenges and Opportunities
The Step Family: Challenges and
By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
All families have problems, but the step family, by its very composition, has
more problems than intact, nuclear families. And because of a history of marital
changes, step family members may feel more pressure to succeed in their family
The step family faces the usual problems of any
intact family - the hurts, jealousies, conflicts, alliances and splits - but
these are usually more intense in the step family. Because it represents the
blending of two families or an individual also with a fragmented family, the
step family faces problems which are unique to it.
Compared to intact families, the composition of
the step-family is incredibly complex. Depending upon who marries whom, there
can be four parents, eight grandparents and a number of children all related
to each other directly or indirectly.
The creation of a step-family is similar to the
merger to two companies, a merger that is not accomplished easily. Each could
have a different set of goals, rules, expectations and histories, making the
merger much more difficult.
Since the step-family is also a relatively new
phenomenon, there are few rulesor norms to guide the behavior of its members
or the behavior of society towards it. What should stepchildren call their stepparents?
Should all four parents - step and natural – be invited to school conferences?
What sort of legal rights or responsibilities should stepparents have with regard
to their stepchildren? These are just a few of the questions about step-families
that have yet to be fully answered.
Except in the case of the death of a spouse, the
step-family involves a biological parent outside the step family structure,
and his or her presence can cause children in a step-family are - or at least
should feel they are - members of two households. The more children of divorce
are loved and accepted in two families, the better off they'll be. The divorce
and remarriage of their parents, no matter how painful an initial adjustment,
can be a growth experience for them.
Stress in the step family unit. But membership
in two families can cause problems. If there is conflict or continued hostility
between the natural parents, children may feel a severe conflict of loyalties.
Not wanting to, they may feel they have to take sides in their parent's battles.
But to be loyal to Mom is to be disloyal to Dad, and vice versa, a terrible,
no-win situation for any child to be in They would rather love and be loved
by both their parents.
In addition, the presence of a biological parent
outside the step family, whether remarried or not, can cause jealousy in the
stepparent. If the emotional relationship between the natural parents, which
includes feelings of hurt and anger, is not ended, that jealousy can be realistic.
Ex-spouses who are bitter or fighting long after their divorce are still emotionally
tied to each other. Often their anger is a cover-up for underlying, unacceptable
positive feelings. Just as children have to separate from their parents before
they can successfully marry, so divorced people have to separate emotionally
from each other before they can successfully remarry.
Unlike the intact family, the step family has a
history of hurt, loss and trauma which may put a heavy burden on the step family
to succeed because members may feel they have failed before. This may or may
not work to their advantage.
The step family also entails forced relationships
between people. The two adults in the step family have decided to join together
voluntarily but this is not true of the children. Stepparents, stepchildren
and step siblings may live together because they have to, not because they choose
to, and their joining can create tremendous jealousies, conflicts and resentments.
The happy wedding of parent and stepparent may not be seen a happy event by
the children. Good relationships can grow out of these forced relationships,
but not without time, patience, understanding, communication, commitment
and hard work.
About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with
Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book,
Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available
directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com,
all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors
copyright and website hyperlinks.
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