Reason #1: THE STEP-CHILD
You did not conceive, give birth to or delight in the birth of this child. You did not nurse him or walk with him when he had colic. You did not see her first smile or gaze with wonder into her eyes. You didn’t rejoice when he turned learned to crawl. You didn’t laugh when she said her first word.
For a birth parent there are a million moments with this child that are like invisible threads winding these two hearts together.
You enter this child’s life after age four, or eight, or twelve years of these moments that you have missed.
You are beginning to build a relationship when this child already is tightly bound to his birth mother and father. No matter what difficult dynamics may be between them, this child is deeply, genetically and emotionally loyal to the two who gave her life.
Reason #2: THE FATHER
He’s a great guy or you wouldn’t have fallen in love with him. You believe you can help him heal from the trauma of divorce or the loss of his former wife.
What you don’t immediately see is that he feels sorry that his kids have suffered trauma, too. He couldn’t protect them from the loss of their mother. Or he left their mother because he was unhappy or the situation was intolerable. He believes, whether it’s true or not, that he’s contributed to a deep wound in his kids. He wants to make all other parts of their lives as easy and conflict free as possible to make up for the pain they have felt or are experiencing.
So, he wears rose colored glasses when it comes to his kids. He sometimes excuses behavior you think needs correction. He doesn’t seem to notice when they leave their stuff all over the house, or eat candy before dinner, or are rude to you.
And he resents it when you suggest his kids may need more dependable structure in their lives. After all, what do you know? You didn’t live through the events that brought them to this place. You don’t understand that Susie is especially sensitive and must be treated with kid gloves. Or that Bobbie is just acting out his confusion and only needs time to adjust.
Reason #3: THE MOTHER
You are, in many ways, acting the role of the mother. You may fix meals, drive to school, do the laundry, and attend sports events, ad nauseam. But you do not enjoy the loyalty or the affection of these children. That belongs to their real mother.
And she may be jealous of sharing her time and authority with you. She may still be reacting to the pain of her dream family splitting apart whether or not it was her choice. She may see you in competition with her for her children’s affection. She may want to punish the former spouse by changing custody plans at the last minute, or taking him back to court for more money. She might even tell lies about him…and you… to the children! She may try to engage you in the drama.
And your beloved may be so sick of dealing with her that he is relieved when you take over the communication with her…meaning you are drawing her fire more than him.
Having an adult, mature relationship with an Ex where the needs of the children are put ahead of the convenience of the parents (and step-parent) is an ideal situation. It even occasionally happens that way. And sometimes relationships with an Ex that start out crazy gradually become more sane. (Watch the videos recommended below to see how one father learned to handle his “crazy Ex.”)
But sanity seems to be the rare exception when it comes to broken marriages and custody of children.
Reason #4: YOU, THE STEP-MOTHER
Yes, you too, may be contributing to the issues. Often you, the “new wife,” believe you can rescue this wonderful man. You are the salve that will heal his wounded heart. You will provide the love and stability that these hurting children need. You will love them all back to health and happiness. You will be the catalyst for a more positive future.
And then you begin to resent how unappreciative they all are! You are being taken advantage of and feel used. You chafe at the lack of authority you have to make decisions and follow through with needed discipline. You can’t understand why your beloved doesn’t see that Bobby needs firm boundaries, or that Susie shouldn’t get her own way just because she’s throwing another tantrum.
Can’t he see that he’s ruining his precious children? Doesn’t he understand that you’re giving advice because you care about what kind of adults they will grow up to be?
THERE IS HOPE FOR STEP-FAMILIES
Unrealistic expectations are at the core of so many step-family choices that add to the chaos and pain rather than relieving it. You cannot force a new, fragile step-family into the happy, well-adjusted family that most imagine being a part of when they marry.
And yet there are proven guidelines that help the unique dynamics of a step-family work more smoothly. I said “more smoothly” because step-family life is very rarely smooth. It is multiple times more difficult to navigate around the issues and personalities in a step-family than to deal with the normal ups and downs in a first marriage with shared birth children.
Visit this page on my website to listen to interviews of several real-life step-couples who have successfully dealt with all of these issues. Hearing their stories is far more effective and powerful than if I were to give you a list of guidelines in this article. Their experience is inspiring and their solutions are practical and duplicatable!
- Hear Jeremy and Lisa’s story and the valuable lessons they’ve learned.
- Listen to James and Kim share some things they did impressively well.
- And you must hear how establishing a few house rules made a big difference to Sherman and Alexa.