Hey Stepparents! As most of you have probably experienced, being a stepparent is different than being a biological parent.
In today’s episode I’ll be exploring some of these differences.
Differences Between a Stepparent and a Biological Parent
You probably remember the beginning of your stepparenting journey. For many of us it’s an abrupt transition with no time to prepare.
It felt a bit like plunging into a lake where the temperature was a lot colder than you were expecting. And maybe you didn’t see the rocks beneath the surface. And didn’t know that the lake is full of snapping turtles and piranhas.
At least this is how it was for me. Maybe some of you can relate. My relationship with my partner was pretty new so we were still getting to know each other. We were finding our groove and not yet on solid ground.
On top of all that there was this other little person thrown into the mix with her own personality, needs, and wants. It was a big adjustment for me.
A blended family doesn’t have the typical rhythm that a bio family does. In a bio family the couple meet and start to build a life together first then later bring a child into the picture.
Additionally, there isn’t the benefit of time during the pregnancy phase. When you know the human addition is coming soon but you have about 9 months to get ready. Time to adjust yourself, the dwelling, and your life.
Stepparenting Felt Like a Culture Clash
My partner and I discovered early on that we had similar values. In spite of that, there were massive differences between how we did things.
The dynamics were reminiscent of my early days as a Russian immigrant coming to America. I didn’t fully understand the culture and was unsure of my readings of situations and how to respond.
As a stepparent, you are often the only one in this situation within the family. Certainly you’re the only one in your household in this position since your partner already has a long-standing connection with the child, not to mention the rest of the family.
Everything back then felt like a new adventure. It was fun but took a lot of energy at times. I felt cared for and supported. But I also experienced lots of moments of real isolation. Feelings of strong belonging were far and few in those days.
It was hard.
The Challenges of Belonging in a Blended Family
It makes sense that connecting wouldn’t be easy because it takes time to learn who people are and all their tells.
Let’s face it as human beings we all have generally the same emotions. But what triggers or initiates emotions varies for each of us.
How we express emotions looks different for many of us too. Someone might laugh when they are upset. Someone else cries when upset. A third person carefully hides any trace of being upset. When a fourth person gets upset they suddenly get quiet.
We each respond in our unique way and it’s only natural that the code to correctly interpret these nuances won’t be cracked from just spending a few hours together.
It’s natural to be protective of your feelings in vulnerable states. And common to be uncomfortable being transparent with someone you don’t know well.
Children often have mixed emotions because you are here and not their other parent. There is inherent conflict for them because their loyalties are split between the two of you. And they might be feeling guilty about liking you.
Your partner feels pressured because of the high stakes. They are probably constantly weighing the pros and cons worrying how their child is adjusting to the new arrangement.
As a stepparent it’s easy to accidentally put your foot in your mouth with something you say or do. Because you don’t have the frame of reference of past memories and traditions to help you navigate the day-to-day.
It’s no wonder that stepparents pay the price of admission by way of being put to the test. Often multiple times.
Foster Connection with Your Blended Clan
I had to remind myself, just like when I was new to America, it’s going to take me time to build middle ground with my new family members. By that I mean – to have built up a string of shared experiences with each other.
The answer was to let go of outcomes. I did so by committing to 5 things …
- Do my best
- Have patience with myself and my new lovable clan
- Show myself plenty of grace
- Make sure to lean on my support system
- Practice self-care regularly and often
I invite you to give this a try and see for yourself the impact it’s going to have on you and your blended family.
Through showing up, staying grounded and being responsive to the needs that arise during these interactions, you are earning your place in your blended family.
The rewards are well worth it!
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