It is so common for parents of biological children to feel that the problem in the relationship between their kids and the stepparent belongs to the person in the step position.
“If they were only nicer, kinder, more understanding, or more forgiving,” they think, “things wouldn’t be such a big deal.”
So stepmoms (and sometimes stepdads) come into therapy by themselves to get some perspective, help, and understanding of what they are going through as they feel misunderstood by their partner and most other people in their lives.
Through therapy, stepparents often come away with at least the understanding that they are not alone in what they are experiencing. It’s not because they’re bad people, but more because the dynamic of stepfamily living produces these feelings in most people in this situation at one time or another. It is part of the flow of step life.
It is often difficult for the biological parent who loves and adores his children, and expects, or at least hopes, that the new woman in his life will love his child as much. He finds he is trying very hard to keep everyone happy.
When he can’t — because he simply can’t — these two people who once felt connected quickly find themselves on opposite sides of the “aisle.” It hurts both of them and leaves partners feeling they have made a terrible mistake.
The biological parent becomes more and more protective of his children, and the stepmom, particularly if she doesn’t have children of her own, feels more isolated and disconnected.
Stepcoupling has a different dynamic than a normal romance because it starts like any other but, sooner or later, predictable stepfamily issues will begin to emerge. It is very hard for either the biological parent or the stepmom to fully walk in the other’s shoes.
Usually accusations of, “I know if I were you what I would do differently,” are hurled, but the truth is a biological parent cannot really understand what a stepmom goes through. Nor can a stepmom often understand the struggle the biological parent is in. They suffer through the hurt and it often breaks them up.
I feel every couple in a stepcouple would benefit when they treat their dynamic as a couples issue rather than an issue that is only a problem for the stepparent. Together, as they learn and understand about stepfamily life, they can begin to work to solve their problems together.
There is enough empathy to go around, and what a relief it becomes when couples learn to support one another through their experience rather than feel hurt, left out, and estranged from the very person who is supposed to be their new safe harbor in the world.
If you find yourself in this position, sit down and talk with your partner. You don’t need to struggle with this alone, especially if you hope to parent together. Look at it as a problem you both need to tackle. Consider having rules of your own house that you can both participate in.
If talking alone doesn’t work, it may be helpful to enter stepfamily counseling to help you understand how to effectively parent as a new stepcouple while maintaining – and strengthening – your relationship.