Lisa Murray, M.A.
When he asked for my hand in marriage, I was excited, I was hopeful, and to be honest, I was slightly petrified. I had no idea what I was getting into.I had dreamed since I was a little girl of finding my husband, of planning the perfect wedding and building a life together. When I met my husband (he was right next door), I knew I had met my soulmate. I knew that he and his children were the ones God had designed for me. Knowing that, though, didn’t make the journey any easier.
Making the commitment to a blended family and becoming a stepparent has been one of the most challenging decisions I have ever made. Anyone who has made that decision knows, being a stepparent isn’t easy. It’s certainly not something to be taken lightly. Being a residential stepparent can sometimes feel like going on vacation in the crater of a volcano — it doesn’t feel like a vacation, it’s really hot, and there’s a great likelihood that you are going to get burned.
There are four pitfalls I often see in stepparenting that can undermine a stepparent’s blended family and destroy any chance at experiencing the love and satisfaction they desire.
Having unrealistic expectations for yourself and your family
This isn’t the Brady Bunch, and your stepchildren probably are not going to cozy right up to you like Greg, Peter and Bobby cozied up to their stepmom Carol. Blended families are a work in progress. If done well, they can build great warmth and connection, but it usually doesn’t happen overnight.
If you need the kids to love you as they love their biological parents, it’s possible you need to re-evaluate your expectations. The children didn’t ask for you. In many ways, they are still wounded from the loss of the dream of having their original family together.
Be patient. Let the relationships grow slowly. Make your priority establishing the healthiest environment possible, cultivating healthy structure, boundaries, communication and parenting strategies within your home. Let go of any unrealistic visions you have for yourself or your family, so that you can celebrate and care for what God has given you.
Putting your spouse in a loyalty trap
As a stepparent, you enter the blended family as an outsider. The biological parent already has a history and bond with their children, which can leave you feeling insecure and envious. You unconsciously put your spouse in positions to choose you over their children in your attempt to feel safe. Sometimes you get stuck in the trap of wanting your spouse to love you more than their biological children.
The love a biological parent has for a child is a bond that predates the couple relationship. It is sacred. The bond they share is one of the most important factors that will determine the future success in a child’s adult life and relationships. The love between a parent and child is different than the love between a husband and wife. Celebrate the love you and your spouse share.
You will nurture your marriage and your blended family the more you respect your spouse’s relationship with their children and encourage them to spend quality time together. Don’t constantly put your spouse in a loyalty trap. Don’t ask them to choose. They might not choose in the way you really want.
Bad-mouthing the other biological parent
All of us have blown it at times, but bad-mouthing your stepchildren’s biological parent is a dangerous practice. Legal, financial, co-parenting frustrations build and in your desire to blow off steam, you bad-mouth their biological parent. Perhaps you want the children to know the “truth” about their parent, perhaps you want to build the bond in your relationship with them. No matter the reason, it won’t work and in the end, you will pay the price.
Honor the biological parent no matter what. Try to facilitate a good co-parenting relationship between households. The more comfortable and respectful stepfamilies can be with their counterparts, the easier it is going to be for everyone in the long run, especially the children. They won’t feel like they have to choose, and they will get to experience the love and support from a larger familial support system.
Assuming a primary parenting role too quickly
You’re trying to be a team. You want to establish a new family structure with new expectations, rules, and consequences. Yet assuming a primary parenting role before you establish safety and trust in the relationship with your stepchildren, will lead to mistrust, disrespect and potential defiance.
Focus on being a caring, responsible, safe person in their lives first. Discuss parenting decisions with your spouse behind closed doors and let the biological parent take the lead in areas of discipline and consequences. Obviously, if a stepchild is about to make an immature decision that could threaten life and limb, it is appropriate to step in. Otherwise, allow the relationship to develop naturally until you have earned the right to step into a primary parenting role. You will build a strong, safe place for your blended family to grow and thrive.
If you are already a stepparent or are soon to become one, be encouraged. Blended families can be wonderful, deeply satisfying, places for everyone.
Be secure in your relationship.
Be a safe person.
It may take time, but in the end you can create the family you’ve always wanted!
Lisa Murray is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Franklin, TN, with an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a graduate degree from Trevecca University. In 2007 Lisa founded the Counseling and Family Ministries at Grace Chapel in Leipers Fork, TN, where she not only works to help individuals, couples, and families, deal with the complexities and challenges of life and relationships, she also treats a full spectrum of mental health issues. Peace for a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com. Connect with Lisa on Facebook: Lisa Murray, author, or on Twitter: @_Lisa_Murray