Unrealistic Assumptions by Stepparents and Stepchildren
Key Points
  • Step-parents may impose unrealistic demands on the family and stepchildren. It is hard to know where to draw the line. The step-family should never try to mimic the traditional family unit. The children may only resent the step-parenting making a difficult situation even more volatile.
  • Step-parents may not always be right to discipline the children, nor should this be an assumption that they should.

"Both adults and children in stepfamilies generally have unrealistic expectations, particularly at the beginning," writes Mary Ann Aronsohn in "Stepfamily Life: Hope and Help for Making It Work," a publication of the Coalition for Collaborative Divorce. "And no wonder! For most of us, from a very young age the very word ’stepfamily’ carries with it some serious baggage! What are the images from literature and popular culture? For stepmothers, two quite opposite ones: the wicked stepmother of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Cinderella fame, and the perfect stepmother like Julie Andrews in the "Sound of Music." Society seems to expect simultaneously that stepmothers instantly love and sacrifice all for their new stepchildren, or that they will fall far short of that goal. Stepfathers are expected to form instant loving bonds and quickly take over the discipline of stepchildren. The first is impossible, and the second can be a serious setback if attempted too early. There is much less of a stereotype of the wicked stepfather, although the image is present (especially for older children), as in the movie "The Stepfather." Communication styles and habits, discipline styles and beliefs, money, allowances, loans, parenting roles and style differences, extended family members, former spouses - can wrap around all manner of domestic problems and often make for enormous difficulties. That sense of "yours, mine, and ours" throws shadows over the terrain of two families united by law but not blood. Rebounding from the pain and suffering of a failed marriage, second time couples, ever hopeful that this time will be different, easily forget that after the courtship comes the day-to-day business of making a marriage work -- the daily grind.

Dr. Jeannette Lofas, the founder of the Stepparent Foundation, makes two hardheaded axioms steps one and two in her regime of effective step parenting. One, "[r]ecognize that the stepfamily will not and can not function as a natural family. It has its special state of dynamics and behaviors. Once learned, these behaviors can become predictable and positive. Do not try to overlay expectations and dynamics of the intact or natural family onto the stepfamily." And two, [r]ecognize the hard fact that the children are not yours and will never be. We are stepparents, not replacement parents. Mother and father (no matter how AWFUL the natural parents) are sacred words and feelings. We are step parents, a step removed, yet in this position can still play a significant role in the development of the child."

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