5. Bio Mom vs. Step Mom In the movie Step Mom starring Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts, the relationship between these two characters starts out awkward and angry. This movie is a good example of art imitating life. The single most toxic relationship that exists within the step family dynamic is that between the new wife and the ex-wife. The bio Mom is saying things like, “So she thinks she’s going to raise my children? I don’t think so!”Or perhaps “ She (new wife) is trying to take over the discipline of my children” while forgetting that her ex-husband had something to do with the conception and birth of the children. In the meantime, the new wife is saying things like, “I wish she’d just leave us alone and let us get on with our lives.” or “The only reason the two of them (bio Dad and new wife) wants the kids as much as they do is so he doesn’t have to pay as much child support.” Fortunately in the movie, although Susan Sarandon’s character ends up facing breast cancer, the two women come to an alliance on behalf of the children…..a happy ending, indeed. It’s not impossible for there to be a respectful working relationship between the two women in this dynamic but it doesn’t happen overnight. It requires focus and perseverance.
6. Emotional issues. We’ve already discussed the fact that step families are born from a sense of loss. Upon divorce, each individual needs to grieve the death of a dream and grieve over the fact that the marriage wasn’t what it was supposed to be. In addition, there are feelings of disillusionment and disappointment inherent in step families. Step families are forged on the hearth of hope—hope that this marriage will be better; hope that this marriage will last. When they realize it is much harder than they thought it would be, is there any wonder there is disillusionment and disappointment? These families are tempered by mistrust and molded by unfulfilled expectations. A new wife often finds herself located in what is perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy that the kids get in the way and the ex wife won’t go away. There is sorrow over the death of the previous relationship and fear about what will happen in the current relationship.
7. Issues with the Kids. In addition to the issues already mentioned, there are some specific things in step families that are unique to that situation. An important issue involves age differences and birth order. In one household a child might be the oldest in the household but in the other a middle child, or worse yet, the youngest. Their role is different in each household. There are divided loyalties, the children love both parents yet at one household the child will join in on bashing the other parent as appropriate to make that particular parent happy. The kids are so masterful about this that they sometimes don’t realize what is going on until they get that ‘yuck’ feeling in their gut. Children struggle with a loss of power and control. They didn’t get to choose the divorce nor did they get to choose the new spouse’ they usually don’t have much say in the visitation/parenting plan, either. Because children are so self-centered, they often feel guilty and somehow responsible for the divorce. They are very ego centric and think “good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Something bad is happening, therefore I must be bad, and therefore I need to try to stop the divorce or fix the marriage.” As adults we see this as incorrect, useless and unhelpful but in their black and white world, it makes perfect sense to children. There is always anger on the children’s parts and there is fear. As a matter of fact, very often anger is a camouflage for fear. They are often afraid to attach to a new adult in their lives because they’ve already had a major loss and they just can’t do that again. If you find yourself in the situation of struggling with any or all of these issues, look for a counselor that has training and/or experience working with step family situations
Although second marriages end in at least 60% of cases, it is possible to have a happy fulfilling remarriage. Remember, the honeymoon in second marriages comes at the end—usually after all the kids have flown the nest—rather than at the beginning in traditional first marriages.