Sensitive issues in stepfamilies can rise up unexpectedly and bring inner turmoil like a gust of wind. Some issues can be easily resolved with few lingering afteraffects, but other challenges create traps that stepfamilies get hung in and linger on for months if not worked through properly.
So, I want to address common stepfamily traps in the next few posts and solutions for coping with them. I would love to hear from you as to what traps you’ve overcome or suggestions for the traps we discuss.
Trap #1: Trying to Replace the Biological Parent
When we spend a lot of time with our stepchildren, we may begin to feel we can replace their biological parent. Particularly if our spouse has custody of his children, we bond with our stepchildren through day to day interaction. We may feel that we do a better job parenting their child than their non-custodial parent and try to take over their role.
It usually doesn’t take long for a stepchild to let you know if you’re overstepping your bounds. Even if the relationship with his/her natural parent is a rocky one, your stepchild is emotionally vested with his parent.
In her book, The Courage to be a Stepmom, Sue Patton Thoele says it best, “The fact is that no matter how wonderful we are, no matter how much we add to our stepchildren’s lives, and no matter how much they love us, in most cases, blood is thicker than remarriage.”
When we try to replace our stepchildren’s parent, we lose. We can’t take the place of their biological parent, even if that parent is a loser! The best approach for a stepparent is to be an additional parent.
Our stepchildren can never have too many adults in their lives who are willing to love and accept them unconditionally. As the relationship with our stepchild strengthens, we can move into a parental role but we should never assume we’re trying to replace the biological parent.
My girls have a very strong relationship with my husband as their stepdad but he has never tried to replace their dad. During our early years he would say, “I know my role. I’m the stepparent.” What he meant was, “I will love and care for them as a parent, but I recognize they have a biological dad.”
After fifteen years of marriage, my husband plays an important stepparenting role. He enjoys a stable and loving relationship with my girls — a result of day by day love and interaction, investing in their lives as a stepparent, mindful of the role their biological dad plays.
“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).
Are you stuck in a stepparenting trap? What do you need to do differently to get out? Will you share it with us?