Stepfamily Myths vs. Realities

Daughter hugging mom

There are a lot of misconceptions and myths about stepfamilies out there, which is frankly quite silly since in modern America one in three people is a part of a stepfamily! Here are some common myths about stepfamilies, corrected with their actual reality.

Myth: Stepparents Are Trying to Recreate First Families

Reality: Stepparents want to create a unique, separate family of their own.

This is such a pervasive attitude towards stepfamilies and it’s probably one of the most inaccurate ones! The idea that a stepmom or stepdad would want to simply come in and replace the other biological parent seems so ridiculous to me! What person in any situation wants to come in and just fit someone else’s mode for life? Stepparents want to create and mold and be a part of their own family—with their own values, traditions, and ways. They are not trying to replace anyone.

Myth: Stepparents Are Evil

Reality: Stepparents want a happy, healthy family as much as anyone else does!

Stepparents are not universally evil people—they’re people who want their own lives and families. This does not, of course, mean that all stepparents are perfect or that they never do or say the wrong thing, but this alone does not make them bad people. Many stepparents come into a relationship with absolutely no idea how much their lives with truly be changed and affected by the pre-established family dynamic they’re entering. The perception that stepparents are evil or only in the family for their own gains is absurd and does not take into account the amount of change and sacrifice they’re going to encounter in their own families.

Dad laying in bed and laughing with baby

Myth: Exes Are Now Enemies

Reality: All of the adults in a stepfamily would generally like the family dynamic to be calm and peaceful.

People in stepfamilies know that it is in everyone’s best interest for all of the adults in the family to get along as comfortably and calmly as possible. Although there’s certainly a reason the biological parents are no longer together, that doesn’t mean everyone wants to automatically be enemies. It is best for the children that all of the parents (step and biological) get along, of course, but it’s also best for the adults! Having everyone on the same team will reduce stress, increase communication, and help create a positive, safe environment to encourage healthy development and happy kids. And happier and healthier children help shape happier and healthier families! Although movies and TV specials will portray exes as enemies or stepmoms and biological moms as always in opposition, the reality is that many families have found a way to make their relationships mature, civil, and respectful.

Myth: Coparenting Is the Only Way

Reality: In high-conflict situations, parallel parenting might be the best solution.

Given the information above, I certainly think that healthy co-parenting between all parties is the ideal scenario for everyone in a stepfamily. However, contrary to popular belief it is not the only way. If civil coparenting isn’t possible, parallel parenting might be a good option for your family. Parallel parenting is essentially “Your house, your rules. My house, my rules.” It’s a total misconception that children are unable to transition between homes with different rules, and if trying to establish one set of rules for both families is causing the children to witness arguments and conflict, it’s a good idea to give parallel parenting a try for awhile. Hopefully everyone is able to sit down and reassess in the future, but to avoid more conflict and damage, parallel parenting is a great option for many high-conflict families.

Mom and daughter blowing bubbles outside

Myth: Kids in Stepfamilies Cannot or Should Not Love All of Their Parents—Biological and Stepparents

Reality: Love isn’t finite. If children are allowed to, they can openly love all adults in their family.

It is true that children who feel pressure from any of their parents to not love the others can feel extreme anxiety and stress about their family dynamic. However, it is completely possible for children—who are assured and encouraged to—to have positive, loving relationships with all parenting adults. In fact, the absolute best thing that an adult in a stepfamily can do—whether a biological parent or a stepparent—is allow and encourage the child to sustain a positive, loving relationship with the other adults in their family.

Although it can be hard to do this, especially if there is animosity and mistrust between the adults, it is hands-down the most important factor in how a child is able to adapt and adjust to stepfamily dynamics. Feeling like they are freely able to love all members of both of the branches of their family will help children transition into confident, healthy adults. Whether you’re coparenting, parallel parenting, whether you get along with the ex or don’t, it’s crucial to set your own feelings aside and put the children’s health and well-being as number one priority. If you allow them to love their other parents, that love will be returned to you ten-fold!

There are many more myths about stepfamily life, but these are some of the most pervasive ones. What are some myths you’ve heard about blended or stepfamily life? Which do you think are the most inaccurate?

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