Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Developing Stepfamily Loyalty

If there is one word that captures many of the dynamics of stepfamilies, it is "loyalty." There are so many differing loyalties which run deep and guide behaivors. Many of these loyalties conflict with each other and end up driving wedsges between family memebrs.

One of the conflicts which is common in stepfamilies is balancig the loyalty for spouse and bio child. If you are the bio parent, your parent relationship with your child preceded the marital relationship. When there is conflcit between your spouse and your child, it is very tempting to side with the bio child [developed loyalty] because it appears that they are treated unfairly by your spouse [developing loyalty]. This is a common situation and provides numerous challenges to the blending or "crockpotting" of families. This kind of conflict is often the source of the de-blending of the family. Situations such as these are notorious for presnting themseves as requiring you to choose one side or [betrayal] the other.

These conflicts are really a question. That question goes something like this: "Are we really a family?" This is not so much a question of wanting to be a family or not. Rather, it is more pragmatic. "Will we really pull this off or is this destined to end?"

When conflicts are understood as this question, it can send a chill up your spine, but it does not need to. Rather, what is needed involves a calm spirit and the firm commitment that you do not have to choose only your child or only your spouse. Rather, you must keep in mind what you are doing in the big picture - form a family. You are loyal to the family.

Here are some steps to preserve all loyalties:
1. Require couple time, bio time, step time, and whole family time to be define of the flow of life.

2. When #1 defines the flow of family life, then standing up to your most developed loyalties for the benefit of the family feels less like betryal because of the history and expected future of being together.

3. Use language which acknowledges each subgroup in the family in such a way that it is understood and expected that these subgroups are not only important to family life, but in fact ARE family life.

4. Trust the process. The question of "are we really a family?" will be asked hundreds of times over the year, perhaps thousands of times. Do not get sick of the question. Rather, be glad it is asked because it is an opportunity to show that, yes, we are indeed a family.


Anonymous said...

My husband of 16 years will not attend any functions with my kids or my mother. I get to have separate holidays with my husband and "our" child and then with "my" three kids and "my" mom. He refuses to have anything to do with them. Years ago when we first married I got tired with how he treated my kids because he was cruel and insensitive when he disciplined them. He holds alot of anger towards their father, my ex, and this is why he "hates" my children. He insists that he didn't marry my children when he married me and they arent' his blood so he doesn't care for them.

so here we are 16 years later and one child together who is 10 now and he will not be anywhere near my children, who are 19, 22 and 24 now. If they ever come over, it is like walking on egg shells at my house when he's around. He removes himself or says something negative to them. He is never welcoming.

Any suggestions??

Jeannette Lofas said...

To add to your good work,it is important that the couple---working together decide on a set of House Rules. Rules create predictable expectations and bring together the couple and the stepfamily.

Anonymous said...

I have a situation and I really need advice. My husband and I have been married for 2 1/2 years. I have three children boys (20 and 18) and a daughter (12) He has 6 children; one daughter (27) and 5 boys (19, 17, 14, 12, 9). We all get along great. Only my daughter lives with us full time. My husband is fine with all the kids except he wants to exclude my two sons from everything. I think he is worried to have his boys see him have a relationship with my if they will feel jealous of that the point he wants to have separate vacations without my boys, takes their pictures down if his boys are coming to stay...its all very strange and I am not sure how to handle it because my boys and his get along very well and I know that they don't feel that way - its only in my husbands imagination. What should I do?

Anonymous said...

My husband of 4-1/2 years tries hard to care for my 2 daughters, 14 & 12, but the girls only see the negatives - his harsh-sounding and occassionally demeaning discipline, his mild hypocrisy which he never admits to... I too feel hurt by his words to them. He is a hard man to please. The girls mostly ignore him - even in the same room and treat him rudely, but are also afraid they'll say something wrong and get fussed at. They see the bad in him, not the good. They tend to stay in their rooms away from him to avoid any criticism. I'm grateful for the joy and distraction our 3 year old son brings to the house.
Maybe house rules would help everyone. Any specific suggestions?

Anonymous said...

I have used your website as a resource, but this is the first time I've seen your blog. I am so thankful to find it!

As a mom of sixteen (five bio kids and eleven stepchildren) for the past 3.5 years, I have learned that the most important thing we must do as parents/stepparents is put the children's needs above our own.

It sounds so obvious, but in any new relationship, the self comes to the surface when you least expect it. In fact, we don't even recognize our "selfishness" at all. But those kids do!

We are still on the journey to blend our two families. His was begun in 1986 and he, with his late wife, had eleven kids who suffered the trauma of losing a parent in death. My five biological children lived a completely different life as children of a diplomat who traveled from country to country and had many advantages. When we blended our two families, many issues came to the surface that we still struggle with today.

Our struggle is progressing and we are getting stronger everyday. Both of us, as parents, have had to come to the realization that our two separate previous lives are now gone and that we are rebuilding a whole new life, preserving from our past what can be.

We still have disagreements due to our past lives, but we are slowly learning to try to trust one another by presenting our fear in the particular situation so that the other can help us overcome it. Only then do we find common ground.

It's a very difficult life, but I am so happy I chose it. The rewards in Heaven will be many!

Anonymous said...

This all seems crazy to me that we accept a belittling kind of relationship with our spouses. I do not compromise that fact that God told children to honor their parents, never did he say for Parents to Honor their children, no, that's backwards!! I believe God does not see the "STEP" in Parent, children have a mom & dad here and a mom & dad there. God refers his relationship with us as a "marriage", that is the proper priority,loyalty and intimacy in which we should place our marriage to our spouse in, second ONLY to Christ, not our kids.

Anonymous said...

I understand the plight of all those like me in the stepfamily situation, - the despising of the step parent(due to jealousy), the critical stepparent view of the stepchild (due to jealousy and retaliation for abuses), with a never ending vicious cycle of conflict. At some point you have to ask yourself when does the agony outweigh the pleasure that brought the man and the woman together in the first place. Add to that the issue of the stepfamily loyalty, - placing the biological child over the stepparent in terms of taking sides, consideration of needs and emotions, and all else, and what you get is a path of pain that depressively appears to look toward an ultimate end of dissolution. I don't have the answers, but I share the angst.

Anonymous said...

I'm needing some advise...I have a husband of 6 plus yrs he has 2 children and I have 4
I haven't seen any loyalty to me in the past 6 years his EX gets everything from demanding what time she be there to pu the kids or what holidays we will have them
she goes on vacs atlest 8 times a yr we have to keep the kids.
She demands money for everything at just cs my husband jumps when she says jump.He doesn't ever talk to me about the money going out for her needs or his kids extras.
She is remarried and makes 2 time the amount my husband makes and he still gives her more
I'm sick ouf it and won't work 50 plus hours a week so she can go on trips.
I have asked him to have his cs modified he tells me boundary line don't cross it.

Anonymous said...

Dealing with stepfamily issues?

Is your blended family not meshing as well as planned?

Are you being tormented by a stepparent?

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Are your new siblings a terror?

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