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Because family life matters

Challenges of life in a step-family

Looking at some of the unique challenges that step-families may face

It takes time to form a step-family.

a family with teenagers

The coming together of two households with their own set of traditions, rules and boundaries, can frequently cause some difficulties. But although the issues might be complicated, with hard work, adjustments and patience, they can be ironed out.

Some of the unique challenges that step-families may face:

Parenting

Parenting in a step-family isn’t the same as parenting when the children’s birth parents are together. A step-parent and stepchild relationship takes time to build because there are no blood ties or shared history. And step-parents will have different roles in different families. They may feel that they have many responsibilities, but no ‘rights’.

Couple relationship

Whereas in a nuclear family there is often space to be ‘just the two of you’ before the children come along, your relationship as a couple in a stepfamily will be less relaxed – it has to develop in front of the children.

Past experiences

Each member of the stepfamily will have previous experiences of ‘family’. These may include hurt, death, rejection or betrayal. A child may have been rejected by a father; a wife may have been abandoned by a husband; children may be grieving the death of a spouse or parent, a man or woman may still be dealing with the effects of an acrimonious divorce.

Complex relationships

The relationships between each member of a step-family can vary significantly. A wife, for example, will relate separately to her husband, her own children, and her stepchildren. In turn, each one of them will relate separately to her and to each other. Now add in the different relationships there will be between them and a large number of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins … Yes, it can get complicated!

The ‘other’ parent

By definition, one or both partners in the step-family will have had a previous partner. Whether the previous partner is living elsewhere or has died, he or she will influence the stepfamily in one way or another and this can be unsettling. They may be ‘present’ in an emotional way, or via grandparents and other extended family members. There may be money issues – perhaps with child support – or difficulties over contact arrangements.

While all these issues can seem very daunting, step-families can also be wonderful and great fun! Keep communication open, recognise which relationships may need a little extra work, and remember that many other families go through the same things. With a little time and effort you can be a success step-family – a family with its own identity and where relationships can grow stronger and deeper.

For ideas to help you build strong relationships in your step-family, take a look at our Top tips for step-parents