Eight myths about blended families

To a child who does not belong to one, the term stepfamily may suggest Cinderella's troubled family or the eerily perfect Brady Bunch. Actually, neither situation tells the whole story. In a stepfamily, or blended family, one or both partners have been married before. Each has lost a spouse through divorce or death, and one or both of them have children from their previous marriage. They fall in love and decide to remarry, and in turn, form a new, blended family that includes children from one or both of their first households.

Here are some common myths about blended families:

MYTH #1: Love occurs instantly between a stepchild and stepparent.

Although you love your new partner, you may not automatically love his children. Likewise, the children will automatically love you because you are a nice person. Establishing relationships does not happen magically overnight.

Even when you recognize the time involved, it is hurtful to want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship with you. When people hurt, they may become resentful and angry.

Stepfamily adjustment will be easier if you begin your relationships with your stepchildren with minimal, realistic expectations about how those relationships will develop. Then you will be pleased when respect and friendship blossom and less disappointed if it takes longer than you anticipated.

MYTH #2: Children of divorce and remarriage are damaged forever.

Children go though a painful period of adjustment after a divorce or remarriage. Adults often feel guilty about this, and want to “make it up” to their children. This makes it hard to respond appropriately to each child’s hurt and to set appropriate limits (an important part of parenting).

Research has demonstrated that in time, most children recover their emotional equilibrium, and will be no different in many important ways from kids in first-marriage families.

MYTH #3: Stepmothers and stepfathers are wicked.

Because many fairytales feature stepparents who are unkind or unfair, new stepparents may be confused about their roles. You may be a wonderful person who wants to do a good job, but the negative model of the stepparent can impact you in a very personal way, making you self-conscious about your new role.

MYTH #4: Adjustment to stepfamily life occurs quickly.

Couples are optimistic when they remarry. They want life to settle down and to get on with the business of being happy. However, it can take a long time for people in newly blended families to get to know each other, to create positive relationships, and to develop a family history.

MYTH #5: Children adjust to divorce and remarriage more easily if biological parents withdraw.

Children will adjust better if they have access to both biological parents. Sometimes visitation is painful for the nonresidential parent, but it is important for the child’s adjustment and emotional health – except, of course, in the rare instances of parental abuse or neglect.

It helps if all the parents involved - both biological and step - work toward a parenting partnership. Sometimes this can’t happen right away, but it can be something to work toward.

MYTH #6: Stepfamilies formed after a parent dies are easier.

People need time to grieve the loss of a loved one. A remarriage may reactivate unfinished grieving, which can have a detrimental effect on the new relationship.

A person who is deceased exists in memory, not in reality, and sometimes gets elevated to sainthood. When people remarry after the death of a spouse, they may want a relationship similar to their previous one. New partners may find themselves competing with a ghost.

MYTH #7: Part-time stepfamilies are easier.

When the stepchildren visit only occasionally, perhaps only every other weekend, there is not enough one-on-one time to work on stepchild/ stepparent relationships, and less opportunity for family activities and bonding. Since stepfamilies follow an adjustment process, the part-time stepfamily may take longer to move through the process.

MYTH #8: There is only one kind of family

A stepfamily doesn’t have to be – and probably won’t be – “just like” a biological family. Today, there are lots of kinds of families: first marriage, second marriage, single parent, foster, stepfamily. Each type is different; each is valuable.

Source: helpguide.org