Step Living

Life in a stepfamily

Chanda is a winner of Top 25 Moms with Blended Families - 2012

What aspect of being in a blended family has surprised you?

What surprised me about my current "blended family" is how profoundly a biological mother's attitude/temperament/personality/etc determines the kids' attitude toward their stepmother. I was a stepmother right off the bat in my first marriage and, though I had difficulty getting along with their mother, I never had a problem getting along with my stepkids. I took it for granted at the time, so it was quite surprising to find in my second marriage what a HUGE difference it makes if the kids' mother is insecure. The single greatest predictor of the kids' adjustment to blended family life seems to be the primary custodial parent's attitude. My son has a stepmother, but since I am secure in my attachment with him, he is able to establish a relationship with her without feeling loyalty conflicts and guilt. Maybe I'm able to be that way precisely because I know what it's like to be on the other side, but I wish more biological mothers would choose to be supportive of their kids' relationships with their stepmoms. It baffles me that a mother would intentionally try to create a hostile environment in her children's other home by continually criticizing and micromanaging.

What's a good tip for preventing sibling rivalry?

We try to keep everything "fair." Fair does not always mean equal. I remember my stepson getting jealous while his sister sat on their dad's lap and my son sat on mine (they were close in age and he was four years older). I always try to point out that even though everything is not exactly the same for everyone, we do our best to make it fair. Now my stepson is the only child old enough to sit in the front seat, so that's something he gets that the others don't, but it is what it is. I buy more clothes for my son than for my stepkids, but that's because his dad doesn't buy any (and I don't expect him to since that's what child support is for) whereas my stepkids have their own mother collecting child support and buying them tons of clothes. My stepdaughter struggled in school so we got her expensive private tutoring; my son wanted to go because it was fun and he felt left out, but he was in the accelerated program at school and it wasn't necessary for him.
I think the most important thing is for kids to know that their individual circumstances are known and we're doing our best to meet their individual needs.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to moms who are about to become part of a blended family?

After all the difficulty in my first marriage to a man with kids, I really didn't want to marry a man with kids the second time. Yet I fell in love with my husband even though he had kids; I wasn't excited about it but I was determined to do my best. I really expected things to be significantly better the second time around because I felt I had learned so much of what not to do from my first marriage. However, my current situation is totally different than my first marriage and I had no idea how many new and different problems I would encounter that I hadn't dealt with before. I wish I could have my current husband, but swap his ex & kids for my ex's first ex & kids. :)
I would say the bottom line is: Be flexible. Things may or may not turn out like you thought they would. Even if your expectations are correct initially, things change over time and you may have to reevaluate and change your expectations.
(If I could give a second piece of advice, it'd be: If you receive well-meaning advice from anyone that just feels wrong in your gut, go with your gut. There are so many people out there who mean well but truly have no clue about stepfamily life. They haven't lived it. Smile, nod & ignore their ignorance.)