Developing Your Own Unique Family Style

Stepfamilies are structurally different from first-marriage families. New relationships, new roles, and new traditions need to be developed. In the process of developing a unique family style, stepfamilies may need to face and overcome certain obstacles. This article discusses some of the major obstacles to a new family identity and ways to deal with them. These obstacles include a belief in myths about stepfamilies, holding unrealistic expectations, having few established guidelines about stepfamily living, mourning losses and making adjustments, and divided loyalties.

Belief in Myths about Stepfamilies

Believing in myths about stepfamilies can be a formidable obstacle. Some of these myths include a belief that stepfamily blending occurs quickly, stepfamilies are the same as first-marriage families, and love occurs instantly in stepfamilies. Myths such as these lead a stepfamily to hold unrealistic expectations, which, if unmet, lead to frustration, disappointment, and feelings of failure and inferiority.

Lack of Established Guidelines

While stepfamilies are not new and they have been increasing in number for several decades, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty among stepfamily members about roles, rules, and ways of doing things. Because of the lack of knowing what is expected in these roles, some stepfamilies may struggle to solve problems independently of established guidelines. Of course, every family must make adjustments. However, in stepfamilies it takes time to figure out what is appropriate behavior toward one another–something usually taken for granted in first-marriage families.

Mourning Losses and Making Adjustments

Stepfamilies are usually formed after a divorce or the death of a parent. Either event represents the loss of an established way of family living. In addition, there may be feelings of loss regarding the intervening time spent in a single-parent family. These events require adjustments that can be especially difficult for children. For instance, a child who was once living with both biological parents in one home may now be alternating living with them in separate households. Stepparents who try to make inroads with their new stepchildren during periods when the children are mourning the loss of their previous family arrangement may invite resentment. Spouses may also have difficulty resolving feelings with a former spouse and may still be emotionally attached to them.

Divided Loyalties

Stepfamily members may feel that an investment in the new family threatens the existence of relationships that preceded the remarriage. For example, a stepson may feel guilty about caring about his stepfather, thinking it will damage the relationship with his biological father. Or, a stepmother may worry she is neglecting her own children by paying lots of attention to her stepchildren. Confusion and conflict over how much time to spend with whom is a common report.

Ideas for Developing a Unique Family Style

Solving problems and making decisions together helps build the family unity necessary for becoming a strong stepfamily.

For Further Reading:

Becoming a Stepfamily
by Patricia L. Papernow

Stepping Together: Creating Strong Stepfamilies
by John and Emily Visher

Additional Websites

The National Stepfamily Resource Center (www.stepfamilies.info)