Becoming a stepparent is not a role that is easy to grasp or navigate, especially in the beginning. Mixed messages, changing boundaries and conflict often engulf the new spouse with a surprising intensity. But do all stepparents have the same difficulties from the beginning or do some have a more difficult job based entirely on myths and misconceptions?
Society and the media have always portrayed certain images of stepparents, but the view of a stepdad is often much different than the view of a stepmom…
A man meets a divorced or single mom. His presence can bring a sense of stability. He comes into the situation of a “broken” home and he helps her to raise her children. He chooses to love them all in one package. He brings a missing piece back into the picture and makes the situation easier for the mother who was tackling parenthood alone.
A woman in turn meets a single man, who happens to have children. Her presence can cause initial chaos. She causes attention to be taken away from the kids. She interrupts the child’s lives and makes the situation more difficult for the mother who is working through her own feelings from divorce and single-hood.
The view is often that a man coming into a marriage with stepchildren chooses to love them and take on more responsibility, while a stepmother coming into a marriage with stepchildren creates difficulties for the kids.
As with all generalities, this isn’t an across the board truth, but these views certainly ring true for many. Men often get the view of being a knight in shining armor while woman entering the same situation are cast as stepmonster or as a joy robber. Why is this? Why do men meeting a single mom gain more respect than a woman meeting a single dad?
Maybe it’s the fact that woman are the ones who typically cast these judgement and we, as a whole, are harder on other women. Maybe it’s just another version of ‘mommy wars’ – mom vs. step-mom. Or perhaps it’s simply the fact that while it can be common for children to have an absent dad, the mom is usually present. A mother is more likely to have primary custody and can in turn feel more entitled to an opinion of what’s happening in the other home.
Whatever the reason, these views can continue into the home and can affect how children bond with their stepparent. Research has often shown that it is easier for a stepdad to be welcomed into a home than it is for children to accept a stepmom. This path of acceptance is longer and many times holds more emotion and conflict for a stepmom. Later this week, I’ll look more into the specific reasons for this, but in the meantime here are a few tips that may help if you are finding yourself struggling in your journey:
- Understand you’re not alone. Whether you are the stepmom or stepdad, you will likely have some bumps in the road. This is not only normal, but should be expected. Know that just because you are in a difficult phase now, it does not mean that it will always be like this.
- Invest in self-care. Take time for yourself and find ways to relax and recenter. Building a stepfamily and merging two families is a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of yourself now or you can find yourself burnt out quickly.
- Try not to compare. It’s easy, especially when the situation is difficult, to compare your relationship to other people in a happily merged family. What are they doing that I’m not? Why can’t it be that easy for us? Trust me when I say that even the happiest of stepfamilies have gone through hard times. Things can get better and relationships will grow, but in the meantime don’t put yourself down if it isn’t as perfect as the family next door.
- Have patience with the process. If you are entering a situation where your stepchildren already have a stepparent, you may be expecting things to go smoothly. For example, the children have already been through the remarriage of their mom so they know what to expect and some of your legwork should already be done. Right? Not necessarily. Even if the kids are in love with their existing stepparent and stepsiblings, it’s still a major change for them when a parent gets married.
Merging families is hard work and while there may be more initial conflict for a stepmom, it is possible to build a family with relationships that are positive, loving and respectful.