Recently, I was sitting at lunch with a friend, swapping stories about our families. I shared that I was concerned about how my adult stepdaughter was doing—she was facing a difficult situation thousands of miles away from home. “Well,” my friend said, “You don’t have to worry about that. You’re not her real mom.”
You’re not “The Real Parent.” How many times do stepparents hear that phrase?
You’re not “The Real Parent.” How many times do stepparents hear that phrase? It comes from stepchildren, biological parents, friends, extended family, teachers and generally anyone in society who hasn’t had the first-hand experience of being a stepparent. It’s a verbal reminder of what every stepparent knows: that we often have most—or all—of the responsibilities a “Real Parent” has, but without the inherent or legal rights of biological parents.
We are expected to give our love, time and often money, as Real Parents do; to understand and always put the relationship of the biological parent and child first (sometimes above the marriage); to provide our stepchild with a positive role model but defer to the biological parent on matters of house rules and discipline. It’s a constant balancing act of being involved, but not too involved; loving, but respectful of the biological parent’s role and our place in the parental hierarchy.
Raising children in a blended family can be challenging, frustrating, and overwhelming at times. It can be a real test of endurance to manage to stay together through some of the tough times that can erupt with your stepchildren. It can also be a time of growth and lasting relationships—but as every stepparent we know would agree, it’s not always easy.
Stepfamily Conflicts? 5 Ways to Keep Issues from Escalating
Many stepparents feel resentful because they can’t stand an “Ex,” guilty for not liking their stepchild’s behavior (or sometimes personality) and frustrated with a spouse who just won’t get “on the same page” about parenting. Statistics show that the most common type of family in America today—65 percent of us—are part of a blended family where there are biological and non-biological parents present. Complex and often misunderstood, it offers unique challenges—and the opportunity for rich emotional rewards.
The truth is, whether you’re co-parenting in an “original” or “complex” family, conflict is going to occur. It’s natural. You can’t live together without some disagreements occurring. These 5 tips can help you keep issues from escalating:
Remember, you can only control yourself and your own reactions. When you have expectations for others to behave or feel a certain way, you have no control over that. Also, be mindful of the expectations you have of yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have expectations for ourselves as parents. Rarely do we always live up to them 100 percent of the time. If you don’t like how you’re responding to your stepchild, take steps to change things—within yourself.
Agreeing on how you will discipline your kids—and coming up with a plan together—is a good way to go about getting on the same page. Many families have a system where the biological parent will discipline his or her own child, with the stepparent’s support. This works as long as the two of you agree on a fair method of discipline for all kids.
But remember, all families are different and have different needs. One stepchild we saw in therapy actually complained about her stepfather never providing any discipline for her. She felt he favored her half-brother over her because he would discipline his own son, but avoided giving her consequences or setting limits with her. Although this is a rare case, it brings up the importance of finding what works best for you, your spouse and your stepchildren. Communication between you and your mate is essential for a successful family, in any situation. Do you agree on parenting styles, discipline techniques, rules of the house and expectations? If you can talk about these things before joining a family, that’s the best case scenario—but it’s never too late to start.
Blended and stepfamilies can be tough at times, but they can also be an opportunity for unique and loving relationships. If you’re lucky, you’ll get acceptance along the way. Sometimes, surviving through conflicts can bring people closer together, but it takes commitment, forgiveness and an open heart.
Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.