Stepfamily Traps – Are You Caught in One of Them?

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?

Related Posts:

What Do Your Reactions Say About You? 

Stepparenting Feels Like I’m Running a Marathon


4 Responses to “Stepfamily Traps – Are You Caught in One of Them?”

  1. 1 sue January 31, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Not sure I understand. I see myself as an additional parent; although, for a long time I was the only mom my step-kids knew. How can I make sure I am not inadvertently behaving as though I am trying to replace her?

  2. 2 Step Parenting with Grace February 1, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Sue, I think it's different if you're the only mom invested in the life of your stepkids. It's a bigger danger for us as stepparents when there's an active biological parent and we're trying to compete with or compare ourselves to them. For example, if we negate the role the other parent is playing and insist on being the dominant parent. Or if we undermine their authority and show no respect for the role they play. If there's not an active biological parent, it may become natural for the stepparent relationship to develop into one that is similar to what a biological relationship looks like. That is basically what's happened with my two daughters and my husband. But it developed that way over time as my husband gave them the freedom to love their dad, but showed unconditional love and acceptance to them as an additional parent. When their dad continued to float in and out of their lives because of serious addiction issues, my girls chose to consider my husband their primary father figure.Does that make sense? Every situation is different but the primary indicator of whether we're trying to replace a biological parent has to do with our attitude – are we possessive and overbearing with our stepchildren, insisting on playing the dominant parental role even when the bio parent is involved.

  3. 3 Sue February 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Yes, this makes sense. Thanks for the information. I don't have any children of my own, so I was worried that I might have overstepped my bounds. I think I am in a situation similar to your husband's, but my kids' bio mom doesn't have addiction issues; she just has a history of abandoning them to pursue the life of a single person every time something easier and more exciting than being a parent comes along.She is back in their lives again, albeit somewhat peripherally–and probably because they are mostly grown and not as needy–and has been trying to undermine me and my husband at almost every turn. She owes him thousands for her share of their expenses but instead of paying him, she seems to be trying to buy the kids' affection–paying for trips to California, buying them cell phones, buying high-priced prom dresses and name brand clothing, etc. and taking it off what she owes him for pesky little things like food, health care, parochial school tuition, etc. Being teenagers, they are eating it up and think she is the greatest thing ever.It's been hard for us to deal with this and learn to share again after almost 15 years of being the custodial parents and the ones solely responsible for meeting their every need. We continue to strive to take the high road, and although it is a very painful road right now, fraught with lots of obstacles, I think we are doing the right thing … even though there are times when I want to wrap my hands around her neck and squeeze really hard. Oops. Did I say that out loud? =)

  4. 4 Step Parenting with Grace February 2, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Sue,Your last comment made me laugh. I can only imagine how hard it is to share the kids after she's been gone for so many years. And even though it seems the kids are eating up her lavish gifts, they know who has made the sacrifices year after year in raising them. As they reach young adulthood, they will have the maturity to recognize the stability you and your husband have shown them and be appreciative for it.You're doing the right thing by continuing to take the high road, although I know it's difficult. You can be assured that the good Lord is watching your good deeds and will reward you for your faithfulness to your stepchildren. Press on.

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