My husband is taking his two oldest children (from his first marriage) away for the weekend…alone. That means he’ll be leaving his two little kids (who we’ve adopted together) at home with me. Do we treat all of our kids equally? No. But we do try to be fair.
In a stepfamily, the rules are different. It’s hard to create a home environment where everyone feels invited and has a secure place in the family. When a first family is formed, bonds are created. When that family is broken apart and a new family is formed through remarriage, those bonds can destabilize when everyone feels displaced. New bonds will hopefully form in time but there’s a tendency to rush the process and try to re-create that first family. There’s pressure on a stepmom to compete for the role of “mom” to her stepkids. There’s pressure on the stepkids to feel towards their stepparent the way they do their bio-parents. It’s so unhealthy and unrealistic…why do we put this pressure on ourselves?
One mistake my husband and I made early on in our marriage was to try to do everything together as a family. We thought it would reinforce the one big happy family concept. But in reality, my stepkids wanted reassurance that their place in their dad’s life was secure. They needed more alone time with him. They never expressed this verbally but I could tell they were refreshed when they got that alone time with dad. This was a great lesson for me to get out of the way and not take it personally. Every once in a while, I encourage my husband to take his oldest kids to a movie…just the three of them. Or this weekend, I was cool with my husband taking them to an amusement park…without me. I know my stepkids love me. We have a pretty good relationship. But the reality is–they need alone time with their bio-dad. They just do.
At one point, my husband and I consulted a therapist who specializes in stepfamily issues on how to negotiate the complicated dynamics of our situation. When she made the statement fair isn’t always equal, a switch flipped in my brain. My husband was raised in a household where he and his brothers were treated as equally as possible, so he struggles with this concept and tries to treat all of the kids the same…but she said it’s kind of like being a teacher in a classroom. Some kids have special needs, every child has a different background…Would it be fair to treat them all the same? No. You do your best to treat them fairly, and sometimes that looks different for each child, given their unique situations.
In my house, we’ve got two sets of kids with two sets of parents, several sets of grandparents and godparents and extended family…and this makes our life a lot more colorful and infinitely complicated. Sometimes my stepkids get to go on fun vacations with one set of grandparents and my little kids don’t get invited. Likewise, my little kids get to go places with one set of grandparents and my stepkids don’t get to go. And that’s okay. Everyone has a different history, a different level of bonding with different family members, and as long as everyone feels loved and that they have a place in this family, we can go about life in peace.
Do you agree–or disagree–about parenting fairly but not necessarily equally? How does this look in your family?