It is said that currently, approximately 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. It is likely then, that a great portion of the population will find themselves in a step-family or blended family situation. Many adults will find themselves in a step-couple relationship, where they are with a partner who already has children from previous relationships. And many adults will find themselves in the role of being a stepparent caring for step-children. Despite the prevalence of step-families, there are still some strong misconceptions about blended families, step-parents, and step-children.

The Healthy Marriage Handbook touches on some of these beliefs with their Myths and Realities Quiz below.

*Remarriages:  Myths & Realities

About 50 percent of all marriages in a year are remarriages for one or both spouses. Remarriages and marriages that form stepfamilies (one or both spouses have children from a previous relationship) are more complex from the start. It’s vital that couples forming stepfamilies learn some specific information about how to build healthy stepfamilies.

Take the following quiz, and see if you can identify what is reality, or true, and what is a myth, or false.

True False
1.  Attachment between stepparent and stepchildren needs to occur quickly.
2.  Children ages 9 to 15 usually have the most difficult time adjusting to a new stepfamily.
3.  Children of divorce and remarriage are forever damaged.
4.  The stories and myths about wicked stepmothers do not affect today’s stepfamilies.
5.  It’s not unusual for a stepfamily to take at least 4 years or more to feel like a solid family unit.
6.  It helps stepfamily adjustment if the nonresidential parent withdraws.
7.  Living in a stepfamily formed after a parent dies is easier than living in a stepfamily formed after a divorce.
8.  Part-time stepparenting is easier than full-time stepparenting.
9.  A strong couple relationship is an important part of forming a strong stepfamily.
10.  A stepparent living with a stepchild has the same legal rights as the biological parent.

 

Answers

1.  False: More than likely, attachment between stepparent and stepchildren won’t happen right away. It takes time, often years, for family members to get used to, accept, and adapt to different family histories, rules, routines, and individual habits, attitudes, values, and rituals. The more new relationships to be formed, the more time it will take. Keep the following in mind.

~ The stepparent should not expect to take a parental or disciplinarian role with stepchildren in the beginning years.

~ The biological parent should not expect the stepparent to feel the way he or she does about a biological child.

~ The older the children, the longer the process of adjustment.

2.  True: Older children have the most history with biological parents and typically have the following characteristics, making it more difficult for them to adjust to a stepfamily.

~ Developmentally, they are very self-focused and may think you’ve messed up their lives with all these changes. They have the capacity to focus on what others think. They may feel embarrassed by the divorce and the remarriage.

~ They are most susceptible to loyalty conflict dilemmas (feeling caught between their parents). Developmentally, teens are very focused on relationships and actively process and think about what they mean.

~ Younger children think with less complexity. They are often more willing to be inclusive and open to accepting more than two parents.

3.  False: It’s important to know that most children of divorced parents (more than 80 percent) do well despite increased risks to their well-being. There’s a lot of variation—and there’s a lot that families and communities can do to support children’s development after they’ve experienced divorce and/or remarriage.

4.  False: Stereotypes can set up expectations and affect everyday life. Parents should discuss preconceived notions and stereotypical thinking with their children.

5.  True: Instant love or instant blending of a stepfamily does not exist—that is an unrealistic expectation. Most stepfamilies take years to adjust.

6.  False: When a child has no contact with a parent, he or she may build fantasies about that other parent. Unless there is abuse, a child benefits from contact with both biological parents.

7.  False: A child who has had a parent die may build fantasies about that parent and may have a standard that the stepparent cannot live up to. The child may also feel jealousy or resentment toward the stepparent. It’s important to allow a child time to process a parent’s death. Most will need some professional help.

8.  False: The role of the stepparent is usually even less clear when stepchildren are part-time residents of a household. It works best if the biological parent is the primary parent and disciplinarian and the stepparent supports this role.

9.  True: The couple relationship is the newest and the weakest link and therefore is the most vulnerable. Taking time together as a couple and working to build strengths in the couple relationship are key to successful stepfamily living.

10.  False: Stepparents are not automatically recognized as legal caretakers of their stepchildren. Stepparents cannot sign consent forms or authorize medical services. Authorization can be given by the biological parent, but it is not set up by law. Also, there are no legal ties to stepchildren if the biological parent dies or if the couple divorces.

 

*From:  Adler-Baeder, F., Higginbotham, B., Schramm, D., & Paullk, A. (2007). Remarriages: Myths and realities. In The healthy marriage handbook: Keys to a successful marriage (pp. 31-32). Published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities) in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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