Step Families are unique and yet share many of the same difficulties experienced in all families.
Stresses and strains to provide the care, nurturing, discipline and structure for children can become exaggerated in a blended family.
Often it is the step-mother who feels the difficulties first. There are at least fifteen ways in which a woman can become a stepmother.
Here are a few examples:
1. A woman can live with/marry a man or a another women who has custodial or non-custodial children
2. A woman can enter a relationship with a partner without any children of her own
3. The woman could bring her own custodial or non-custodial children to the union, divorce or death could be the heartbreak that resulted in the loss of the original union.
Pressures are often significant on women to provide the care-taking roles in family relationships, step-families are no exception.
Americans tend to reform family units..................
With such a high divorce rate in the USA it makes sense that many children will grow up with adults that are not their biological parents.
Current statistic as of the year 2010 demonstrate these facts to be true about marriage, estimating that there are over 11 million remarried households, not counting couples who are not allowed to marry.
In addition this does not include co-habitation without remarriage, which would make these numbers even higher.
Adults living in a step-family often wonder what to do about the conflicts and pressure that arise. Often these strains are expressed by the step-parent first.
Getting help through family counseling, stepmother support groups or individual psychotherapy can help everyone understand the challenges in living in a blended family.
Many Step-families are unaware of the inherent difficulties of trying to form a new blended unit and need to learn how to work through and communicate about the problems as they arise.
Do Children living in Step-Family situation need extra support & help?
No one is taught how to form new family relationships. There may be competing stresses for children living in two households. Love and discipline taking many years to solidify in the new step-family.
There is also evidence that demonstrates that children and adults alike from divorced families and step-families have a higher risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems.
Step families are new units that require understanding and patience.
Remarried families or step-families are not inherently problematic or a poor substitute for an intact nuclear family. One thing is common in all remarried and step-families is that these new units develop out of a loss, either traumatic or transitional, which includes loss and grief for all members.
Three aspects of the family life cycle have been disrupted:
For the children, it is the loss of living with their two biological parents on a daily basis; while for the parents it represents the greatest sense of failure we as adults may feel about ourselves.
Remarrying and creating a new blended family represents a renewed sense of hope with many transitions, role changes, relationship adjustments, reorganization and adaptive new behaviors and sharing of parenting responsibilities, as well as accepting the unavoidable conflicts.
The role for stepmothers
It is at times difficult to separate from the role expectations that society has of women in general. Woman, mothers and stepmothers are often expected to be:
1. Nurturers and care takers of the family members.
2. Provider of activities or social relationships for family members.
3.Domestically oriented in house jobs or at least the general that hands out responsibilities for chores or jobs to be accomplished for the greater good of the family.
4. Working outside of the home, especially at the last part of the 20th century more than 90% of women with school age children nationwide work outside of the home for income.
5. Able to juggle multiple roles of partner, mother, stepmother, friend, daughter, daughter-in-law, school parent, worker/professional, and religious community member etc….
Where do the conflicts come from in the role of a stepmother?
There is often an inherent conflict that begins to arise with-in the 1st stage of the blended family living together:
1. Fantasy or Illusions phase of one happy family bites the dust. The fantasy of everyone getting alone and being the “Brady Bunch” becomes crystal clear that this is impossible.
2. Losses and changes in family rules and roles begin to surfaces with the children and often they are unable to express their feelings and may act them out with the step -mother.
3. Children who are younger and more flexible in transitions may not show or express upset, while either teenage children or less resilient children will feel the stresses of their developmental changes more acutely. This may show itself with rejection or competition with his/her biological mother.
4. Holidays, birthdays and special events such as graduations or school related events might cause conflicts about who can and cannot attend. The biological family may seem like the stronger force leaving the stepmother to feel excluded or not as important as the original family members.
5. Parenting styles are different and many times biological fathers may feel the need to protect or minimize the step-mothers influence in discipline or rule setting. This phenomenon is called “Father guilt” and often comes from the hurt that has been caused by the divorce on the children, with the father wanting things not to be difficult for his children.
6.Transitions are always difficult, especially with children in a shared custody arrangement where they are going between households and spending time packing up leaving one environment and changing to a new environment with its different rules and behaviors. Transition difficulty may appear as the children being spaced out, non-responsive, unappreciative or unfriendly.
7.Splitting and family loyalties may result from children wanting to get their own ways. In a step-family this loyalty to the old family unit or a form or manipulation may come out with statements like “You are not my mother” and “Why should I listen to you”, statements like this are injurious and often lead to a step-mother feeling hurt or unappreciated for all the parenting she is doing to help out her partner.
8. Loyalty issues also are more critical especially if the biological mother feels threatened, uncomfortable, emotionally needy or unwilling to accept this new family arrangement. This may force the children to express their loyalty to their mother by rejecting the stepmother, or at least giving her a difficult time.
Parenting Issues for Teens and Pre-Teens
The way one parents a younger child (2-11 years old) may not be as effective with your child age 12-18 years old. The beginning of puberty (11-14) can cause both child and parent to come into conflict over everyday activities and responsibilities.
Your child’s temperament, easy going, difficult or slow to warm affects the flavor of that conflict, and the response required of you. More about that in a minute, but first some background.
Generally speaking, girls begin puberty two years before boys do, between 11 and 13. This is most noticeable in body changes, rounding of hips, breast development and the beginning of menstruation.
Early developing girls often are seen as older and tend to be attracted to older boys. This can be a big headache for parents. Early developing boys are seen as leaders by their peers and tend to grow stronger and taller very quickly in a growth spurt. Your child has no influence over when they begin physically maturing, yet the reactions of their peers to their physical maturity can either help them build or lower their self-esteem.
Socially, your pre-adolescent and adolescent is interested in seeking time and confirmation from his/her friends and spending less time with his/her parents.
Typically for girls, it may be talking on the phone, instant messaging friends, going shopping or playing sports on a variety of teams. Boys typically want to hang out with friends to play video games, play sports, ride bikes or skate board far away from home.
As parents, this shift may cause you to feel nervous about the loss of power over your child’s schedule or activities. For parents who are used to the family spending time together, and to planning your child’s activities, it can feel like you are being fired from your job, and losing control over the safety and direction of your child's life.
What do parents and adolescence disagree over? Arguments are mostly about everyday activities such as chores, homework, home responsibilities and aggressive or disrespectful behaviors. Parents who are used to being directive with their children will suddenly get resistance to being “told” what to do.
Easy going children who have been cooperative in the past may continue to be so in adolescence, or may suddenly develop a rebellious streak. Difficult children may become more thorny and refuse to cooperate with anything that is asked of them, while slow to warm teens will withdraw and be challenging to engage.
Though it is natural to feel powerless, and consider giving up on parenting during these demanding years, it is essential to continue creating contact and a positive relationship with your pre-teen or teenager.
Though it is hard to believe from their behavior, you are still their role model. Parents who want to be effective in keeping communication open during these stressful years must work towards the following basic values and behavioral changes within themselves:
•Commitment to reaching for understanding between yourself and your child, to supporting autonomy in their decision-making, and to demanding mutual respect from yourself toward them, as well as from them toward you.
•Being Responsible in language choices when discussing ideas. No blaming or finger pointing. Example using "I messages:" Beginning a statement with “ I feel this way when you don’t do this….”
•Listen carefully to what your child is trying to tell you, which takes patience and time..
•Explore ideas with your teen; get them to talk more, while you talk less.
•Interest in their thought process, by getting your teen to tell you how they would come to a decision and what would they do if they were you.
•Try to suspend judgment and think about why your child may need to provoke, annoy or challenge you in your position as the authority.
•Make time to talk. Either leave the house or find a neutral space to sit down and show your son or daughter that you are interested in what they are saying.
•Admit to your own feelings when you are angry or hurt and remind them that parents have emotions, needs and thoughts that deserve respect also.