When a stepfamily is made up of children whose parents have previously divorced, there is often another parent – or parents – on the scene. This can add to the pressures on the new stepfamily – financially and emotionally.

Added pressure

"My two stepsons would get dressed up every Saturday morning and wait by the front window for their mother," says Anita, who has two daughters from her first marriage, as well as two stepsons. "They’d wait for hours after the time she was supposed to be collecting them. She only turned up three times. All the other times, we’d have to pick up the pieces."

"Joe would come back from seeing his dad and behave atrociously," says Paul, who has one child by his first marriage, and two stepchildren. "He used to take his pain out on me. Of course, I’d get the familiar line, ‘You’re not my real dad!’ thrown at me."

Difficult transition

Children can come into the stepfamily having been used to living with two natural parents, then witnessing the breakup and divorce of their parents, and having experienced life in a single-parent family. Now they have to learn a whole new set of skills as the children in a stepfamily. They may have been used to Mum or Dad’s undivided attention for years. Then along comes another parent figure, and perhaps stepsiblings and a new family structure.

Be there

Being there for the children, however they behave, is supremely important. Remembering they are in pain, whether because of seeing the other parent or because of the other parent’s rejection, can make it easier for step-parents to accept their behaviour.

And it is all-important that husband and wife support each other through the traumas, rather than allowing the child or the "other parent" to drive a wedge between them.

"I wanted my own mum to love me, and I didn’t accept my stepmum for a long time," says Simon, the eldest of Anita’s two stepsons who waited by the window for his mum to collect him. "Then I gradually realised how much she did for me and how much she cared for me, whatever I did. When I was grown up and joined the army, she worried herself sick about me – she cried when I was sent to the Gulf. I know she loves me now and I love her, too."

Excerpted from Step-Parenting, June 2004, by Care for the Family. © 2004 Care for the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

Care Family

Care for the Family is a national charity which aims to promote strong family life and to help those who face family difficulties.

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