In the fairy tales “Hansel and Gretel”, “Snow White” and “Cinderella” a wicked stepmother makes life difficult for the children from her husband’s first marriage. The terms stepmother, stepfather and stepchildren have negative connotations for many people, so that today bonus mother, bonus father and bonus children are often heard and read about.
Stepfamilies are a special form of family
In fact, living together in modern stepfamilies or patchwork families is by no means as gray and evil as the fairy tales suggest. This does not mean that some families do not have to deal with conflicts that result from this particular type of family. In contrast to the nuclear family, both a parent and the children have to deal with the loss of the other parent through death or separation. Within the nuclear family, the parents as a couple had already agreed on certain upbringing rules that had to be renegotiated in the new family.
Why problems can arise within stepfamilies
The parent who is absent due to separation usually still has influence over the child and usually wants to influence their upbringing. Depending on the relationship between the adults, this can delay the new family growing together. In the worst case, the children react to the new stepparent with rejection and with the words “You have nothing to say to me”, as a book about stepmothers by Susanne Heger is called. All adults involved should be aware of one thing: the separation of their parents is always difficult for children and they are often overwhelmed when suddenly several parents have a say in the upbringing. When two people fall in love with each other, the question of existing children is of secondary importance. At the latest, however, when planning to move into a shared apartment, stepmothers or stepfathers-to-be should think about whether they will be able to cope with this task in the long term. also read our advice article “Problems with the stepchild “
What should be considered when dealing with stepchildren
Living together in a patchwork family that is satisfactory for everyone involved can only succeed if no false expectations are entertained and the new situation is dealt with responsibly. The new partner has to deal with the fact that they don’t always come first and that they have to share the attention of their loved one with the children at least part of the time. They should ask themselves whether they see the children as a bonus or as a burden.
In love with the teacher – now what?
Take your stepdaughter’s or stepson’s feelings and fears seriously
If the birth parents separated not long ago, many children are in a mourning phase and are often still under great emotional strain, even if it is not apparent to them from the outside. A negative attitude towards a new partner of her father’s or her mother’s boyfriend is often not directed against her personally, but has other causes. The child may be less of a focus when a parent falls in love and fears losing them. The child’s negative behavior results less from jealousy than from a fear of loss.
Clearly define roles within the blended family
If a patchwork family is founded, it is important that the roles within the second family are clearly defined. Without a clear distribution of roles, every situation has to be renegotiated, which means that there is no orientation for either stepparents or children.
Stepmothers and stepfathers are not surrogate parents for the stepson or stepdaughter
The bonus mothers or fathers do not replace the biological mothers and fathers provided that they are only absent. In the opinion of many psychologists and educators, they should therefore hold back from their upbringing and merely support their partner. Ideally, all adults will be able to communicate with each other about education. That assumes they aren’t playing off against each other. Even if this doesn’t happen obviously, children have fine antennae and notice discrepancies clearly. Instead of trying to oust the biological parents, stepmothers and stepfathers should actually see themselves as bonus parents who are there as additional bonding persons for the children. Children are quite capable of forming strong bonds with several people.
When all else fails: There are offers of help and advice
Every family is different, so general tips can only help to a limited extent. If, despite all efforts, conflicts with the stepchildren cannot be resolved and the situation remains tense, this is no reason to give up. Trained family therapists identify causes and help to find solutions. The youth welfare office and family counseling centers are also competent contact persons.