Surviving The StepFamily

By Robert Carver

After eleven years of marriage I am a very happily married man in a “stepfamily,” otherwise known as a blended family. But to reach this point my wife and I have had the strength of our marriage tested time after time and it still continues. From the day of our wedding, I realized just how different it is living in a stepfamily.

To survive and have a successful marriage is no easy task. Stir in children from a previous marriage, ex-spouses, ex-in-laws, and the extra baggage from previous relationships and you will realize just how different the stepfamily is. Each of these ingredients can bring with it a whole set of problems themselves that need to be dealt with.

This first thing to understand about a stepfamily is that it is not the same as a “traditional” family unit. Each stepfamily has its own set of variables, whether there are intrusive ex-spouses or ex-in-laws, young stepchildren, older stepchildren, the list goes on and on.

My personal situation was that my wife had two children each from her two previous marriages and I had two children from a previous marriage. Neither of my children lived with us, though my son would stay with us for a couple of months at time. So we started out with six children between us. If that wasn’t enough to put a stress on a marriage, my wife and I had a child and then we had seven.

There are several important things that I learned during my marriage that I feel would be helpful to pass on to others who are either already a part of a step family or are planning on marrying into one.

There are three elements that are key to surviving in a step family. Two elements are communication and mutual support between the spouses. Additionally, the highest priority throughout the marriage must be the marriage itself. Remembering that at some point in time, all the children will move on to their own lives. Without all of these elements trying to survive is difficult at best.

The communication must be genuine and productive. Grip sessions almost always tend to be counter-productive – avoid them. Communication is productive when you can mutually reach a happy medium. Don’t be afraid to discuss hard issues. Avoiding them only leads to more problems.

One of the most significant issues that will need to be discussed is the disciplinary role. Whatever is decided, it will need to be agreed and actively supported by both spouses. Sometimes a spouse will put his or her own children’s interest first. It is often, because of the guilt for the experience the children had to suffer through during the divorce and its aftermath. But to do this is to put the marriage itself at risk.

Many parents want to overprotect their children instead of expressing an assurance that they will endure. Over-Indulging children will create its own set up problems for the marriage. The parent needs to convey an optimistic attitude to the children. Don’t try to rescue the children. Give them time to adjust to the stepfamily.

How well the relationship is between a stepparent and the stepchildren will depend upon everyone involved. The relationship between the stepparent and stepchildren will take time to develop. You can neither force nor rush the relationship. It will have to develop on its own. At times it will seem to go forward five steps, but at other times it will seem to go back ten. During these times you have to be prepared for numerous tests of patience and inner strength.

You may hear the words that most stepparents have heard at one time or possibly numerous times “You are not my father. I don’t need to listen to you!!” Be ready to be left out of conversations, be the “Invisible Man” (ignored), be left out of events with your stepchildren and shots taken at you just to see how you will react.

However, through all of this time there must be an ongoing mutual respect between stepparent and stepchildren. The other spouse must support the mutual respect. Through all of this the parent must be ready to do their part as a mature adult, as emotion riddled as the times may get. At all times, you will need to pay attention to the needs of the children. Again, without over-indulging the children.

It is not an easy task to build a relationship with anyone, but when you try to do it with children who may be apathetic in the best of cases or totally antagonistic on the other hand….it is truly a tough scenario.

So is it all negatives? Not necessarily. It can be heaven or hell depending upon how you deal with the issues of a step family. It takes work and sacrifice to have a happy stepfamily. But the rewards can be outstanding. I know…I am receiving those rewards now.

Robert Carver is the founder of a resource for parents and stepparents.