Myths are beliefs. It is these beliefs which strongly influence the way people in step families adjust to their new family and react to one another. History and literature are filled with wicked step mothers like the ones from Snow White and Cinderella.
Stepmothers in history are shown as wicked, cruel and uncaring. The wicked stepmothers steal the father’s affection from the children, and have been known to take their inheritance, and out of jealousy make plans to have them killed. Stepfathers are portrayed as abusive. Stepfathers often complain people assume this stereotype and automatically view the relationship as a disaster waiting to happen.
Not all myths are negative though. The step parent can be looked upon as a rescuer. You have the single parent currently struggling to make ends meet and then arrives a new partner to help. However, you have to be careful not to allow them to buy the affection of the children.
Step families have their own set of myths. First there is the “Brady Bunch” family. This is two families, each parent with children, coming together. If you buy into the “Brady Bunch” mythology you will either spend time in denial about the real, unsmiling state of affairs, or you will judge yourself too harshly for not being able to create a blended family free from problems. Second is the strange sort of family. Those in blended families think their family is abnormal or strange because it is “in-step” instead of their “real” family. Statistics show about half of all Americans are currently involved in a type of a step relationship. But, despite the facts, the mythology lives on, and as a result, step parents often believe their families are not normal as compared to nuclear families.
Love occurs instantly
This is the expectation: because you love your new partner you will automatically love his children; or the children will automatically love us because we are such nice people. Of course, if we think about it, we recognize establishing a relationship takes time. It does not happen overnight or by magic. Step family adjustment will be helped if we come into the relationship with our step children with minimal, and, more realistic, expectations about how the relationship will develop.
Adjustment occurs quickly
People are optimistic and hopeful about remarriage. People want life to settle down and to get on with being happy. If your hope or expectation is once the wedding vows are spoken life will return to normal, you are going to be disappointed. It takes time for people to get to know each other, to create positive relationships, and to develop a family history.
Children are forever damaged
I can speak from experience here – I am not damaged! Neither are my children! Children go through a painful period of adjustment after a divorce or remarriage. Adults often respond to their children’s pain with guilt. Parents feel the need to make it up to them. This leads to difficulties in responding appropriately to our children’s hurt and setting appropriate limits – an important part of parenting.
Children adjust more easily if biological fathers (or mothers) are not present
Children will always have two biological parents, and will adjust better if they can access both. This means the children need to be able to see their nonresidential parent and to think highly of him. At times, visitation is painful for the nonresidential parent, but it is important to the child’s adjustment and emotional health, except in those rare instances of parental abuse or neglect.
If the other parent dies it is easier on the children
People need time to grieve the loss of a loved one, and a remarriage may reactivate unfinished feelings of grieving. These emotional issues may get played out in the new relationship with detrimental effects. When people remarry after the death of a spouse, their desire may be to want a relationship similar to the one before. When people remarry after a divorce, they are looking for a change. New partners may find themselves competing with a ghost.
There is only one acceptable family
Today there are lots of diverse types of families; first marriage, single parent, foster, and step families to name a few. Each is valuable and has various characteristics. Because there are two adults in the step family does not mean it recreates a biological family. If this is what you are hoping for, you will be disappointed and frustrated when it does not happen.
Getting rid of the ingrained societal myths can be hard, so can giving up your hopes and expectations about what marriage, partnership, parenthood, and family life will be for you. The step family cannot function as the natural family did. It cannot and it will not. If you try to make it do so, you will set yourself up for failure. Also, you should not want it to. Obviously things didn’t work with the natural family, so why would you want to repeat those behaviors?
Be careful – these myths will set you up for failure:
-Remember the old cliché – you and me and baby makes three? What about his older brothers and sisters in the new family?
-I love kids and I am great with them. Do not fool yourself! Being a step parent is unlike any other experience. You have a different role and more complications when involved with the child’s parent.
-The kids will not be living with us so this will be easy. Do not fool yourself. What about summer vacation, holidays and other over-night sleep overs.
Myths are just MYTHS. Do not fall into the traps of them and do not give any more thought to them. After reading this book, you will find what works for you and your new family. Then you can laugh at the myths!