Challenges of Stepfamilies

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Building a new family is an exciting but challenging time. Stepfamily life can be a happy experience for many people, however, the stepfamily experience can become difficult and joyless. According to Newman (2004, p. 3) many people make the mistake of thinking that a stepfamily is like a first time family and they try to be like the families they just came from. Also, starting a stepfamily has often come about because of loss such as divorce and death, and maybe starting a stepfamily is surrounded by current losses for example, children moving to a new home and losing their own bedrooms (Healy 2002, p. 24). Stepparents may be faced with many difficulties, however there are practical strategies that can be implemented to help stepfamilies come to terms with their challenges and adapt successfully to their new lives.

According to Newman (2004, p. 4) “A stepfamily is a family where at least one partner has at least one child from a previous relationship. Stepfamilies come in many different shapes and sizes. They have many different types of living arrangements and patterns of interaction”. Stepfamilies don’t start with an empty slate and as Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 47) state they are born out of relationship losses and the abandonment of hopes and dreams in the previous family. According to Einstein and Albert (1986, p. 15) for the children, the remarriage might be the event that crushes their hopes and dreams that their parents will get back together and for the parents, unfinished business from their previous relationship can trigger negative feelings that can invade a new relationship. Healy (2002, p. 24) states that if there are unresolved feelings such as anger, grief, shame, anxiety or guilt then professional support is essential before entering a new relationship. Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 47) postulate that “structurally, remarriage and consequent stepfamily life is complex, whereby a variety of parental figures, siblings and extended family members from current and previous marriages are usually involved”. As a result of this complex life, an ambiguity of status evolves. According Balswick and Balswick (2006, p. 317) this ambiguity of status is the effect of the lack of structured boundaries that existed in the previous family. Now, many of the shared experiences, symbols and rituals that helped maintain the boundaries of the first family are missing (Balswick & Balswick 2006, p. 317). Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2008, p. 47) discuss how children often have to live in two different homes for varying periods of time during any given week, and, in these situations they have to deal with different rules, for example, (bedtime, table manners), ambiguous boundaries and different roles, for example, (an only child in one home may be the eldest sibling in another). It is inevitable that relationships, which predated the new marriage, undergo changes as the new system makes room for new members and changing responsibilities and obligations as discussed by (Goldenberg & Goldenberg 2008, p. 47).

Balswick and Balswick (2006, p. 319) postulate that previous marriages can be a source of financial problems for stepfamilies. Child support can be the main issue here. Resentment can occur when promised child support does not arrive or a stepfather’s/mother’s hard earned money goes to pay debts from his/her stepchildren.

According to Chedekel and O’Connell (2002, p. 18) children can often become use to being the primary focus of attention when they are with one of their separated parents, so when their parent’s new partner enters into the family, children can be totally uninterested in the new person and can assume the new person will only bring disruption into their lives, therefore the new person is clearly the outsider. The outsider parent becomes the ideal target for the children’s negative feelings and actions and the perfect person to blame for their upset...
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