Healthy Stepparenting #2: Recognize the Impact of Loyalty Conflict

Loyalty conflict is a foreign term to a nuclear family. But for stepfamilies, it can be an unfortunate reality, resulting in crippling emotions for stepchildren and unseen barriers toward relationship building with stepparents.

Loyalty conflict occurs when a stepchild experiences conflicting feelings between his biological parent and his stepparent. It can also occur when a child feels emotionally torn between two biological parents and is forced to take sides.

Children naturally have strong loyalties toward their biological parents. As they build a relationship with a stepparent, they may experience guilt and confusion because they worry about the impact on their non-residential biological parent. When stepchildren struggle with conflicting emotions, they will remain loyal to their biological parent, shutting out their stepparent and any emotional ties to him/her.

If a stepparent tries to compete with the biological parent or win the child over, the loyalty conflict will increase. The stepchild may feel that enjoying a relationship with his stepparent is hurtful to his biological parent. These feelings are compounded when an insecure biological parent discourages a relationship with the stepparent.

In order to help combat these feelings for stepchildren, stepparents must never criticize the biological parent or appear in competition with them. The stepchildren should be allowed continued contact and communication with the other biological parent without a threat of anyone hindering that relationship.

In time, stepchildren learn it’s okay to love a stepparent in addition to their biological parent. It takes longer in homes where the step-relationship is discouraged by the other parent but the stepparent has no control over that. Once again, stepparents will find that time and patience are on their side.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

2 Responses to “Healthy Stepparenting #2: Recognize the Impact of Loyalty Conflict”

  1. 1 Anonymous January 25, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Oh how I wish we could truly understand the importance of encouraging our children, and stepchildren, to maintain healthy relationships with both biological parents! My son is engaged to a precious young lady who is enduring great hostility from her biological mother because she wants her biological father to walk her down the aisle! Her parents have been divorced most of her life and she has only recently pursued building a healthy relationship with her father. I would love for her to be able to acknowledge the huge role that her stepfather has played in her life without totally excluding her biological father from this part of the dream for her wedding day.

  2. 2 Step Parenting with Grace January 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Unfortunately your future daughter-in-law will probably push harder for her biological dad to play that important role if her mother continues to try to control it. At some point we have to let go and allow our children to make their choices, praying for them through the process. I wish your family the best as you prepare for the big day.

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