Stepfamily dilemmas

With the divorce rate just under 50% most who get divorced remarry creating a stepfamily.  And anyone who has ever been in a stepfamily knows that they are complicated to say the least!  Tuesday's web chat will be about many of the issues stepfamilies face and how they can be resolved.  The next letter illustrates a classic problem in stepfamilies:

Dear  Dan,

I think I am having some stepfamily problems.  My husband and I are in a relatively new second marriage.    He has one son and I have a daughter. 
Last night my son  had 2 friends over, it was late when my husband returned home from a long day and he was tired and hungry. Nevertheless, not only did he not say hello to the girls, he didn't even acknowledge their presence.  The next morning when he left for work, the girls were still there and he still didn't acknowledge them.

 I am put off by this, as I feel an acknowledgement is priority for everyone all the time.  Later I told him it was important to me that he acknowledge the children.  He said he did not feel like it was necessary or that my daughter would have really cared last night, they were doing their thing.   I thought my husbands lack of consideration to my feelings and my request was hurtful, however I have decided to let it go or he will become angry  and think I am a nag.

Lastly, if his daughter was at our house and his friends were over, he would have greeted him.  He will from time to time greet my kids, on his terms though, he decides when to greet and not to .

So is this a case of "I have made my bed and now sleep in it" or is there a way to reason?

Struggling in a stepfamily                                 


Dear struggling,

Shortly before I received your e-mail, I received one from a fellow in Haverford who was considering marrying for the second time and asked my advice.  I told them his timing was perfect because this is the time to begin talking about what it means to be a family.

When people get married for the first time, they bring in a set of expectations and experiences from their family of origin and rarely do partners see the world through the same lens as both have a different vision of what it means to be family.  But when they get married a second time, those expectations have been modified by everyone's battle experience which is usually negative.  So everyone usually comes to these families with some anxiety and apprehension and many carry baggage from the previous marriage.

So the questions about what does it mean to be in family, be married, be a man/woman, be a parent should be discussed way back in the beginning of the process.  And the children should also be brought in to the discussion.

Every stepfamily I've treated has struggled with issues of loyalty.  Biological parents feel loyal to their children who have already suffered.  Meanwhile, this loyalty can do great harm to the fragile new marriage.  This is a complicated and difficult issue as children really do suffer when there is divorce and do need to support of their parents.  But when a child of divorce has lived alone with a parent for a while, they are not going to be happy about sharing time and space.  All of these things need to be talked out with everyone in the family.  It's very important that stepfamilies do not divide by biology.  And although this is may be difficult for the first few years as everyone tries to get to know one another, it's very important not to have secret alliances.

So, struggling, even though you may have not had these discussions, it's never too late.  You see, there are always stories behind the story.  When you say how important it is to be acknowledged, that sounds like a high stakes issue from childhood and may have nothing to do with your daughter.  I don't know why your husband won't acknowledge the children, but there is a story about that also.

And the most important issue is the fact that you are hurt.  If something is happening in your marriage that is hurting you, that's never okay.  That doesn't necessarily mean that your husband should change his behavior to address your pain, but it does mean that the two of you have to talk about this.

And please keep in mind blended families are difficult and so are second marriages.  As far as I am concerned, what makes the prognosis better is devotion.  If the two of you are devoted to this relationship and this family, you might still need counseling, but you should do pretty well.

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