Step Families

Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 47) postulate that “structurally, remarriage and consequent stepfamily life is complex, whereby a variety of parental figures, siblings and extended family members from current and previous marriages are usually involved”. As a result of this complex life, an ambiguity of status evolves. According Balswick and Balswick (2006, p. 317) this ambiguity of status is the effect of the lack of structured boundaries that existed in the previous family. Now, many of he shared experiences, symbols and rituals that helped maintain the boundaries of the first family are missing (Balswick & Balswick 2006, p. 317). Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 47) discuss how children often have to live in two different homes for varying periods of time during any given week, and, in these situations they have to deal with different rules, for example, (bedtime, table manners), ambiguous boundaries and different roles, for example, (an only child in one home may be the eldest sibling in another).

It is inevitable that relationships, which predated the new marriage, undergo changes as the new system makes room for new members and changing responsibilities and obligations as discussed by (Goldenberg & Goldenberg 2008, p. 47). Balswick and Balswick (2006, p. 319) postulate that previous marriages can be a source of financial problems for stepfamilies. Child support can be the main issue here. Resentment can occur when promised child support does not arrive or a stepfather’s/mother’s hard earned money goes to pay debts from his/her stepchildren. According to Chedekel and O’Connell (2002, p. 8) children can often become use to being the primary focus of attention when they are with one of their separated parents, so when their parent’s new partner enters into the family, children can be totally uninterested in the new person and can assume the new person will only bring disruption into their lives, therefore the new person is clearly the outsider. The outsider parent becomes the ideal target for the children’s negative feelings and actions and the perfect person to blame for their upset experiences as discussed by (Chedekel & O’Connell 2002, p. 8). According to Healy (2002, p. 24) a new partner is not immediately a new mother or father and may never be if children are older. An unrealistic expectation from the stepparents according to Balswick and Balswick (2006, p. 318) is that all members of the new family will love each other and share their lives equally. However, this is not the case. Society conditions children to trust only their own parents and can often have feelings of resentment, suspicion and overcaution towards stepparents as discussed by (Balswick & Balswick 2006, p. 318).

Even if a child really likes a new stepparent, he/she may not become friendly because of a fear of becoming disloyal to a natural parent (Healy 2002, p. 24). Competition between a stepparent and a natural parent may occur as well as rivalries and jealousies between stepchildren. In the light of these issues, assuming parental roles becomes increasingly difficult, according to Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 48) however, relationships within stepfamilies that are allowed to blossom slowly, undergirded with love and patience, often lead to caring and loving bonds that last a lifetime.

Irrespective of format, all families must work at promoting positive relationships among members, attend to personal needs and be prepared to cope with developmental or maturational changes as discussed by (Goldenberg & Goldenberg 2008, p. 4). However, with stepfamilies, according to Balswick and Balswick (2006, p. 320) it takes an even more intentional effort to connect in healing ways. It is, therefore essential that information and education is available to stepfamilies, and as they are better informed and have more understanding of the challenges that lay before them, they are much more equipped to come to terms with them.

Remember, each family is unique and what works for one stepfamily may not work for another. It is also important to consider blending families with racial, cultural and religious differences as well as gay, lesbian, adoption and foster care families. Despite all the difficulties, Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 48) postulate that resilient, well functioning stepfamilies are more the rule than the exception – so all stepfamilies take heart! References Balswick, J & Balswick, J 2006, The family a Christian perspective on the contemporary home, Baker Academic, Michigan.

Chedekel, D & O’Connell, K 2002, The blended family sourcebook a guide to negotiating change, Contemporary Books, Crawfordsville. Einstein, E & Albert, L 1986, Strengthening your stepfamily, American Guidance Service, Inc, USA. Goldenberg, H & Goldenberg, I 2008, Family therapy an overview, 7th edn, Thomas Brooks/Cole, USA. Healy, J 2002, Parenting, The Spinney Press, NSW. Newman, M 2004, Stepfamily life why it is different and how to make it work, Finch Publishing, Sydney. Schnarch, D 1998, Passionate marriage, Owl Books, New York.

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