My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials

James 1:2

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View October 2010 Issue >>
 

The Blended Family: Dealing With Stepmother Negativity

It is a sad but sobering fact that the divorce rate for second marriages in most countries is at least 10% higher than in first marriages. At first glance we would consider this surprising, as after all, we should know exactly how to handle the second marriage with all the experience gained from the first marriage – shouldn’t we? So what is going wrong? It is often said that first marriages stay together because of the children, but second marriages part because of the children. Blended families have unique issues especially in the areas of:
a) Maternal (Stepmother) negativity toward stepchildren
b) Discipline - children from different homes disciplined differently
c) Parental conflict (especially with ex-spouses)
d) The crisis of identity that a child faces when moved from one home to another.

Different value systems
Maternal negativity regarding step-children is a well documented cause of conflict within the new marriage. A new wife comes into this marriage with the expectation that she is going to be number one in her husband’s eyes for all time. What she tends to overlook, is the fact that he has children and that these children were first in his life before he met her. When the children do not have primary residence with their father then he is only able to see them (if he is lucky) perhaps once a week.

This in itself creates a problem for the dad as the last thing he wants to do is to alienate his children in any way from his love for them. When children come into the household of the step mother she (without realising it), lays down expectations of these children in her home. What is not factored into the equation is the fact that the children have different roles in their resident family.

Maybe they come from a setting where value systems are contrary to that of the family of the step-mom and dad. They are perhaps allowed to put their feet on the couch and eat chips whilst watching TV, whereas the expectation from the step-mom is completely different – no feet on the couch and eating chips only in the kitchen!

These children are caught in the middle of these expectations and sometimes they experience huge trauma which manifests itself in bad behaviour or, in a worst case scenario, the desire from the kids not to visit their dad/mom anymore.

Basic rules to adhere to
Laura Petherbridge in her book ‘The Smart Step Mom’ gives some basic rules that stepmothers need to adhere to, to help bring peace and harmony into the home rather than alienation. A Stepmother:

  • Doesn’t pretend that a second marriage is the same as a first, and she doesn’t expect everyone to be happy
  • Acknowledges that it’s normal to love stepchildren differently than biological kids
  • Takes time to understand children who are coping with loss and loyalty conflicts. Her goal is to ease grief whenever possible rather than create more chaos
  • Recognises that children often feel disloyal to the biological mom if they treat their step-mom kindly
  • Doesn’t step hastily into her husband’s parenting role, even when he refuses to
  • Respectfully discusses issues about the children privately with her husband
  • Is prepared. She isn’t naïve or ambushed by complex stepfamily issues and is flexible to cope with matters that she didn’t see coming
  • Has a strong support system with other women who share her values
  • Tries to be at peace with the biological mom and asks God to help her see things from the biological mom’s viewpoint
  • Does not try to become a replacement mother to children who already have one, nor does she insist that the children call her mom
  • Acknowledges that she may not see the fruit of her sacrifices until the children become adults
  • Resists the negative label associated with being a stepmother
  • Believes her value is determined by the price Jesus paid for her and that she is precious in God’s eyes. This awareness offers her enduring peace, even in challenging times.

Do not be discouraged
If you are a stepmother you must not become discouraged if you feel that you have not been able to identify and maintain the rules given above. We constantly learn from others who have navigated the map before. How wonderful it is to know that we have a Saviour who has died for us that we might experience His strength and counsel when we so deeply need it.

On a personal note: I used to call myself WSM pronounced ‘wissoom’ for ‘wicked step mom’, but from that I found that it was possible to graduate to ‘wonderful step mom’! It will not be easy at times but, thanks to God’s leading and a good sense of humour a good blend is possible.

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