Replace Stepfamily Myths with Realistic Expectations
Typical multi-home stepfamilies are similar to intact biological families in a number of ways. At the same time, they also differ structurally, developmentally, and dynamically in oversixtyways! People unaware of these differences, and what they mean to typical adults, kids and supporters, risk unconsciously using inappropriate or harmful biological family norms and expectations to guide their stepfamily perceptions, goals, and decisions. This is like trying to play baseball with soccer equipment and basketball rules—guaranteed to create confusion, frustration, conflict, and stress that will inhibit healthy stepfamily merging and bonding, and promote growing dissatisfactions.
Learning, Teaching, and Applying Stepfamily Realities
Learning to live well in a new stepfamily has been likened to the challenges faced by a clan of Swedes pledging loyalty to a tribe of Tibetans, who all settle down together in rural Brazil. There is much for everyone to learn—new laws, customs, roles, and vocabulary. Everyone is learning to cope in a new, alien environment.
There are three distinctly new challenges facing you and your child-raising partners:
1. You will need to learn specifically how your multi-home stepfamily differs in composition, norms, and dynamics from your respective birth-families and first-marriage families.
2. You will need to use these step-realities and make time together to evolve clear and realistic personal, marital, co-parent, and multi-home stepfamily goals and expectations over time.
3. You will need to teach yourmain stepfamily differences, realities, and goals to your kids, important kin and friends, and key professionals. Keep them updated. Expect some people to misunderstand and to criticize your new values, goals, and plans—or you. Realize they probably have their own unsolved problems and/or are stuck in a biological family mode of thinking. Befriend informed others who will empathize with and support you.
Here is a sample of common stepfamily myths and realities that you’ll discover, discuss, accept, and apply:
Myth: “I love you and I must love your kids.”
Reality: “I love you and will patiently work at respecting your kids. They and I may never love each other. If we do, it will feel different than biological parent-child love, and that’s okay.
Myth: “Your or my ex-mate is not part of our family!”
Reality: “As long as your previous marriage biological children live, their other biological parent, and their new mate(s), if any, will emotionally, financially, legally, and genetically influence all of your lives. Ignoring or discounting the needs and feelings of these other adults will stress everyone for years.
Myth: “We’re just like a regular biological family.”
Reality: No, because you have two to three linked stepfamily co-parenting homes, three to six stepfamily adults, six to twelve co-grandparents, forty to ninety relatives, new alien family roles (such as stepfather, stepmother, stepsibling, for example), many major losses to mourn, and many conflicting values and customs to resolve among all your people. You are, however, normal—a normal multi-home stepfamily.
Myth: “Your or my kids will never come between us.”
Reality: Stepfamily adults’ inability to resolve clashes over one or more step-kids, including related money issues, is the most quoted reason for a stepfamily divorce. Underneath this usually lie your own unhealed wounds.
Myth: “Step parenting is pretty much like biological parenting, without the childbirth.”
Reality: While key aims of stepparents are about the same as those of biological parents, the emotional, legal, and social environments of average stepparents differ in numerous ways from typical biological parents. That usually leads to role confusion, frustration, and high stress, until all the stepfamily adults in your stepfamily agree clearly on what each stepparent’s key responsibilities are.
Myth: “Your and/or my biological kids(s) will always live with us.”