If you’ve watched Adam Sandler’s popular movie Blended, you’ll probably know the advantages and obstacles of a stepfamily.
When two families with different values and different mindsets come together to live as one, they have to face their own set of challenges. Nancy Landrum, a relationship coach, has written a comprehensive book on the subject, “Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily.”
We got an opportunity to dwell deeper on the topic with Nancy, and here are her thoughts.
How are step family dynamics different from that of a conventional one?
Nancy said, “One or both the adults in the family have children from previous relationships. So quite often, the adults in the step family are dealing with the relationship with the other biological parent of the child. Sometimes they are trying to co-parent. Sometimes, the other parent is out of the picture. But the dynamics between a stepparent and a stepchild are very different from that of a birth parent and birth child. The birth parent has thousands of interactions with their child that create a strong bond.
That bond is missing with the stepchild. Quite often, the adults in the family picture a conventional family in their mind where the husband and wife are married to each other and whatever children they conceived and gave birth to, and the dynamics are very different. So if parents in a step family try to create or mimic a nuclear or first family, they will run into trouble because the dynamics are so different and require different strategies to succeed. It doesn’t work to operate as a nuclear family would.”
What can you do to make your stepfamily work?
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Nancy said, “First of all, you give up your expectation that it is ever going to look like a nuclear family because it won’t.”
She then continued, “One of the main guidelines that make stepfamilies work well is if each adult parents their own biological child or coparents with the other biological parent. But if a stepparent decides to step into the parental authority with a stepchild too soon, it can create a lot of stress and resentment in the child. The stepparent’s job is to support the parenting decision of the biological parent, and it’s very hard to be a stepparent because you are basically living in a home with children that are not yours, and you have very limited authority over those children. And quite often, the stepparent can see weaknesses in their partner’s parenting, and they want to advise about how this child requires a different kind of parenting or how the parent needs to be stricter.
Or the worst thing is when the stepparent decides to become the primary parent of a stepchild. Then their partner and the stepchild will fight them, which is why many second and third marriages break up. They have more divorce rates than nuclear first families.”
She concluded by saying, “There are about four different sources of stress on conventional couples. But in a step family, six more sources add on to it, making it a total of 10. Most couples go into remarriage or creating a stepfamily without any knowledge of how hard and stressful it will be, which is why they have a much higher divorce rate.”