Brian says: When we got married, Katie was a wonderful step-mother to my daughter, Amber. She took her shopping, taught her how to make brownies, things like that. But after our son, Alex, was born, all that changed. When Amber is here on my visitation weeks, Katie does nothing but demand help around the house. She wants to plan all our “fun” outings for the weekends Amber is with her mother. Amber is hurt and confused, and I’m feeling angry and resentful.
It’s time for our own child to be the focus
Katie says: Well, of course I favor my own child. What mother wouldn’t? Amber is a nice girl, but she does have a mother of her own. She’s also old enough to help out a little. After Alex was born, I expected Brian to spend time with him and me alone – we are a family now. I feel as if Brian is so wrapped up in making sure Amber’s feelings aren’t hurt that he’s ignoring our son.
What do they do: Step-family dynamics are land mines waiting to explode, especially if they are not approached with care and precision. Raising stepchildren can be a challenging job – but joyful. When merging two families with children, thereby creating a stepfamily unit, extensive communication between the two spouses is often lacking. Here, we’re talking about practical communications focused on the parent-child(s)-parent dynamics. Without clear communication, a lot of unfounded assumptions can come into play – by the parent and the new step-parent. Once assumptions are made, the downward spiral begins to gain momentum and can ultimately lead to a crash that destroys the relationships. Unless Brian and Katie can regain control of the situation by getting to the root of the issues, their relationship will deteriorate and ultimately cause additional injury to Alex and Amber. No one escapes being injured in a relationship crash that destroys a family unit. In a stepfamily, the biological parent most always will feel closer to his biological child than the step-parent will. That is a natural phenomenon, and it is survivable if both Katie and Brian can focus in on the real problem. We will suggest the problem resolution may be found in strengthening their couple relationship – and do it with little focus on Amber and Alex! Most often, troubles between parents and children (regardless of biological connections) are manifestations of issues between their parents – in this case between Katie and Brian. For example, Brian’s ‘extra’ attention to Amber (as a result of Katie’s behavior toward her) may be aggravating Katie, who is feeling left out. Likewise, Amber’s change in behavior after Alex arrived may be aggravating Brian, who feels like Katie may be trying to sever his relationship with his biological child. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle; and Brian and Katie need to begin looking at the issue by focusing on their relationship with each other first. Brian might also ask what he could do to help on the weekends when Amber is visiting. It might even help if some of the household chores could be accomplished before Amber arrives, then each member of the family could plan a small outing. Tom believes it has little to do with Amber and Alex and a whole lot to do with Brian and Katie. Once Brian and Katie get their relationship back on track, they will be amazed at how the “children” problem will disappear.
Deacon Tom Fogle and JoAnne Fogle help prepare couples for marriage.