About Gloria Lintermans & her Blog
Gloria is a winner of Top 25 Moms with Blended Families - 2012
What aspect of being in a blended family has surprised you?
Studies show that only 18 percent of re-married parents who have all of their children after the remarriage are happy; the rest see family life as mildly stressful to miserable. One reason is that within our society, there are no cultural scripts, no set of socially prescribed and understood guidelines for relating to each other or for defining responsibilities and obligations in these families. Although our society tends to broadly apply to second marriages the rules and assumptions of first marriages, these rules often ignore the complexities of stepfamilies.
I am also now aware that the term “blended family,” currently popular and often used interchangeably with stepfamily, can also be confusing; you do not blend in the sense of losing the character and identity of your original family. Nor are families reconstituted or put back together. However, there is a difference between step- and blended-families in that in stepfamilies the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended family, there are children from both co-parents. For the purpose of this book, both will be referred to as step, yet apply to both.
In blended and stepfamilies, although one biological parent lives elsewhere; virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss; the children are members of more than one household; and one adult—the stepparent—is not legally related to the stepchild unless legally adopted. For children, the transition from one family structure to another, and another, creates a long period of upheaval and stress. Generally, children are forced to adjust first to a new single-parent household before adjusting again to the new two-parent stepfamily—two difficult transitions. And, more likely than not, a very tight, emotional bond developed in that single-parent household.
Children can also find it difficult to bond with their new stepfamily because there is a biological parent outside the new family unit. Remember, most of these children hold membership in two households, with two sets of rules. Additionally, role models for stepparents are poorly defined and blended/stepfamilies come together from diverse backgrounds, which means everybody needs to have (or develop) the ability to tolerate differences.
Relationships in blended/stepfamilies are new, untested, and not a given as they are in traditional families. Even when everyone is in tune, what is missing is the comfort of knowing that there is a bond taken for granted, a biological bond of caring and love. Now, outward signals and signs are continuously needed to show that caring and loving, or respect, really exist. Children in blended/stepfamilies also have at least one extra set of grandparents and extended family which can leave everyone on both sides confused about what to do.
What's a good tip for preventing sibling rivalry?
Silbling rivalry happens in all families, even biological families. However, it is much more complex in step and blended families. Your children become siblings, residential stepsiblings, nonresidential stepsiblings, residential half-siblings, and nonresidential half-siblings. There are even two subtypes of half-sibling roles: those of children related by blood to only one of the adults, and the half-sibling role of the mutual child. Children also have step-grandparents and ex-step-grandparents.
Even though blended/stepfamilies are a large segment of the American families today, our language has not yet caught up with the proliferation of new family roles. As family members separate and join new families, the new kin do not so much replace as add to kin from the first marriage. What are the new relatives to be called? There may be stepparents, step-grandparents, and stepsiblings, but what, for instance does a child call the new wife that her or his non-custodial father has married? Or, if a child alternates between the two households in a joint-custody arrangement, where does he or she call “home,” and where is his or her “family”? It takes the entire family working together to make the adjustment easier for everyone.
About half of the women who remarry have a child, usually within two years after the wedding. This is most often the case when women have no children, or only one, from a previous marriage. Adding another child to your stepfamily is bound to be a complex adjustment. Even though these children bring none of the complications that come with expanding families across households, or the complex structure of family roles and relationships, the complication is from the viewpoint of the children from the previous marriage.
Stepsiblings may not get along because they resent sharing their room, their possessions, and their parent. Ties between your stepchild and their non-custodial parent may create a triangle effect that makes your spouse’s previous marriage seem “more real” than this marriage. Children, upset after visits with their non-custodial parent, are forced to make major adjustments that make life difficult for everyone, and you might often feel caught between loyalties to your biological child and wanting to please your new spouse.
So what is the answer to handing sibling rivalry, step or biological? It is important that each child, bio and step, feels HEARD and honered for their uniqueness. If at all possible, spend one-on-one time on a rotating basis with each child - the best way I know of to make each child feel heard and valued.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to moms who are about to become part of a blended family?
Although all stepchildren and stepparents are to some degree uncomfortable with some aspect of their new family role, certain difficulties are more likely to affect stepmothers. Conflicting expectations of a stepmother’s role make it especially hard. As a stepparent, your best shot at happiness is to ignore the myths and negative images and to work to stay optimistic.
As a stepmother, yes, your work is cut out for you. In fact, the role of stepmother is thought by some clinicians to be more difficult than that of stepfather. One important reason is that stepmother families, more than stepfather families, may be born of difficult custody battles and/or have a history of particularly troubled family relations.
Society also seems, on the one hand, to expect romantic, almost mythical loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel, vain, selfish, competitive, and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtime stories we are all familiar with). Stepmothers are also often accused of giving preferential treatment to their own children. As a result, a stepmother must be much better than just okay before she is considered acceptable. No matter how skillful and patient you are, all your actions are suspect. Is it any wonder that stepmothers tend to be more stressed, anxious, and depressed than other mothers and also more stressed than stepfathers?
Some researchers have found that stepmothers behave more negatively toward stepchildren than do stepfathers, and children in stepmother families seem to do less well in terms of their behavior. In fact, the relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is often the most difficult. Yet, other studies indicate that stepmothers can have a positive impact on stepchildren. Because stepmothers are much more likely to play an active part in the lives of children than stepfathers, perhaps there is simply more to go wrong.
Still, some step-mothering situations can make this role especially complicated -- such as a part-time or weekend stepmother if you are married to a non-custodial father who sees his children regularly. You may try with all your heart to establish a loving relationship with your husband’s children, only to be openly rejected, or you may feel left out of part of his life because of his relationship with his children. In addition, a part-time stepmother can feel left out by her husband’s relationship with his ex-wife; for example, non-custodial fathers need to spend time communicating with their ex-wives about their children’s school problems, orthodontia, illnesses, etc.
Yet, well-run by knowledgeable, confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), this modern version of an ancient family form can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.
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