"....Experts estimate that by the year 2000
there will be more stepfamilies than any other kind of family in the
U.S. Half of Americans have been or will be in a stepfamily constellation
at some point in their lifetime. About half of remarried spouses procreate
a mutual child in addition to children from one or both former marriages,
while the remaining 50% of stepfamilies fall into the categories of
stepfather families, stepmother families or complex families in which
both spouses bring children from another marriage into their new union.
If the joining of two individuals in marriage is
comparable to blending two different cultures, as many a family
therapist has suggested, then the joining of two individuals with
histories of past marriages, divorce and children must be the joining
of two different galaxies!
Previous loyalties and relationship loss which
predates the new marriage can play major havoc on well meant intentions
in stepfamilies, along with other stressors. It is illuminating
knowledge to couples at the helm of these families, that family
researchers have identified the best predictor of stepfamily happiness
to be the quality of the relationship that develops between the
stepparent and children. Like any transition, timing can be one
of the most important factors in favor of healthy adjustment. The
next most important factor in stepfamily adjustment, as in any family
is the strength and quality of the couples' bond. These two very
important variables are obviously related, as any natural parent
will attest, who feels "torn" between his/her children and spouse.
And any stepparent can relate the awkwardness of finding his/her
place as a family member and as a parent in a maze of relationships
and shared history established prior to his/her arrival.
So, the task itself is fraught with paradoxes.
It is often painful and difficult for the stepparent to find a place
in an already established system that grieves the loss of a person
you may have never met, including being the person who children
"test" to see if you are "good" enough to earn membership. It is
also important to remember that one of the developmental tasks of
a family is to raise and nurture its' young to adulthood in the
best way possible. It is important to remember that as a stepparent,
you had a choice in the situation while the children did not. As
the adult your responsibility must encompass an understanding that
you will be expected to be concerned and involved in caring for
these children and ensuring their sense of security in traveling
through this transition of adding you to their family! If the job
is too big---Don't sign up for it!! Remember you are the adult and
you made the choice to marry a spouse who came with children. Very
often stepparents suffer from unrealistic expectations regarding
the transition of blending families, resulting in feelings of helplessness
And very often natural parents share fantasies
of the perfect family union, pressuring spouses to love children
they do not even really know yet, or expecting a stepparent to discipline
a child before an appropriate affection has grown between the two.
Natural parents can play an important role in supporting the stepparent
appropriately, including being understanding of the frustration
this role can hold, particularly in the first two years of the new
marriage. Pacing the role that a stepparent takes on in the family
to match realistically with the development of the relationship
between stepparent and child will go along way towards developing
a positive relationship.
Because more than 50% of remarriages end in divorce,
we can assume that information about the very complex process of
blending families is not well known. Being able to identify common
pitfalls, predictable feelings, and characteristics of successful
remarried families will elucidate a more viable and realistic vision...."