Home' Nova National : November 2010 Contents Instant Family
© NOVA NOVEMBER 2010
The saying goes that we can't
choose our families. When a man
or woman marries a second time
and there are children involved,
an instant family is created, bringing
inherent challenges. Neither the new
partner nor the children probably feel they
have any basic say in the arrangement and
so resentment can be present right from
the very beginning.
What are the difficulties and what
strategies can be employed to
The nuclear family concept of Mum, Dad
and a couple of kids doesn't exist any more
for all intents and purposes. It is probably
the exception rather than the rule. These
days, a child might be brought up by a
single parent of either sex, two gay parents,
a collective group of adults and children, an
extended family or a mixture of stepparents
and siblings. It's an eclectic mix and who
can say if this is better or worse than the
traditional model. I see this diversity as a
very healthy sign because it transfers the
focus from conformity to love. Men and
women come together essentially for love
and out of that emerges a family, which, for
better or worse, develops together.
In a step parenting situation, this
doesn't happen. Assorted and unrelated
people are lumped into an intimate co-
habitation with little preparation. It's no
wonder that step parenting is known to be
one of the most difficult of all human roles.
The first and most immediate obstacle
is the resistance and resentment of the
children, whatever their ages. If they're
very young, especially toddlers or pre-
schoolers, the acceptance level is higher.
The new parent is assimilated quite easily
as long as he or she is kind. But with older
children, the stepparent faces an uphill
battle, no matter the effort expended. This
is often the hardest part in that children
resent even the new parent's niceness,
seeing it as merely a ploy to win them
over. Teenagers understandably are the
worst. They resent the loss of the original
parent, whether through divorce or death,
and the intrusion of the new one. Many,
many blended families fail over time,
simply because of the degree of difficulty. If
both partners have children, the level of
difficulty goes up several more notches.
The perfect Brady Bunch is fiction, as
we all know. Blended families operate on
a delicate balance and every member is
an important component in the dance.
For harmony to prevail, a great deal of
tolerance and compromise is called for.
It's virtually like two instant families under
one roof. The secret here is to ensure
that two opposing camps don't develop,
there's no favouritism or preferential
treatment for any individual and all rights,
needs and feelings are respected. A tall
A second, rather obvious, hurdle
faced by a stepparent is the existence of
the ex-spouse, if there is one. Dealing
with exes can be tricky enough for the
primary person, but marrying into that
situation is a minefield. Even if the ex is
a reasonable person, stays in the back-
ground and respects the new family set-up,
it still requires sensitive handling. Often,
though, exes are the exact opposite, using
the children as weapons, interfering with
the family arrangements and basically
making the stepparent's life a misery.
The partner, whose children they are,
is sandwiched between the old and the
new, duty and personal choice, having
to be diplomatic in the most trying of
So, what strategies can you
employ if you have married into
and inherited an instant family?
Read up on the challenges of step
parenting before the final decision to marry
someone with an existing family. Talk to
others who have been in a similar situation.
Be very sure it's what you want and are
ready for before you commit. If possible,
get to know the children before the
wedding so that they don't feel a stranger is
moving into their house.
Don't try to replace the original parent
even if they are deceased. Be a friend first,
but not to the point where the parent/
child relationship is blurred.
Establish boundaries right from the
Don't set your own agenda too early
in the arrangement. Be flexible, fair and
accepting. The family you marry into
already has its regular routines and
schedules. To a certain extent, you will have
to adapt and fit in, gradually introducing
your own style and ideas.
As with all relationships, com-
munication is key. Do lots of listening and
minimum talking. Be approachable rather
than imposing your personality.
Keep the lines of communication open,
especially in any areas of potential conflict.
Eliminate all criticism and judgement,
no matter how hard this is, and it will be!
Offer suggestions and assessments, by all
means, but avoid all bossy or dominating
Expect not to be liked and don't take
All love grows slowly and, in this case,
a lot of resentment has to be chipped
off first. So hoping for instant affection
and respect is just setting yourself up for
disappointment and hurt. Trying to force
yourself onto the children will certainly
create yet another barrier instead.
Never criticise the real parent to the
children, whatever the provocation.
Be polite and pleasant in all your
dealings with the ex. You don't have to
like each other or become friends, but it's
important that all dealings are affable.
Children will manipulate adults
whenever they have something to gain
so you need to be very watchful of this,
especially in a step parenting situation
when they have an investment in breaking
up your marriage. Concentrate on your
own relationship first; after all, you are
newlyweds and have a right to a lot of
loving time and privacy, even though
you're not physically alone as you would be
normally in a new marriage.
Plan to be married for the long haul!
Step parenting takes a lot of strength,
tenacity, faith and positive thinking. A
friend of mine married a man with five
children and a very difficult ex-wife. Many,
many times, she wanted to walk away,
but stayed because she believed in her
marriage and grew to love the children.
The new family she forged with them has
developed its own identity and character
over the years, unique and special, totally
different to the previous one.
You may, in turn, resent the children's
presence in your marriage, home and
life. Don't show this, no matter what, but
it's very natural so there's no need to feel
guilty or beat yourself up for it. Love
spiritually until you can love personally.
With love, everything is easier and possible.
A sense of humour goes a long, long
way in all relationship matters and no less
here. Don't "sweat the small stuff "; keep
things as light as possible.
Finally, believe in yourself and what
you have to offer this new family. Many
times your confidence will be tested, you
will be constantly exhausted physically
and mentally stretched, you will often
find yourself lonely and living in a land
of strangers and the one person you are
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