Double Standards of Being a Stepparent

Good Morning America played an interesting segment on “Mom vs Stepmom” one Friday. The idea ignited after a well-known model, Gisele Bundchen, made an innocent comment about her feelings toward her stepchildren. She simply stated that she considers them to be 100% hers. Why wouldn’t she feel this way? More to the point, why shouldn’t she feel this way? After all, she is married to their biological father. Haven’t we all learned that we should love not only the person we’re married to but all of his/her family as well? That includes the kids, obviously. The in-laws, though, are an exception – particularly the mother-in-law. It seems to be OK to not like them – or at least not get along well with them.

Divorce seems to be OK too. Oh sure, we’re told that we should only marry once, only marry the person we’re in love with, never cheat on that person, and never get divorced. Yet, the divorce rate for first-time marriages is 50%. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is 66%, and higher still for marriages with children (families). That is if the couple even wants to get remarried. Many couples are choosing to cohabitate (live together/shack up) instead, because they don’t want to get divorced again. It was so painful the first time, they figure why do it a 2nd time.

These rates in and of themselves reflect a contradiction in the so-called family values of our society. On one hand, we espouse the importance of family values, staying together, loving everybody, treating everybody equally, and on, and on, and on. Yet, on the other hand, we have pretty much accepted these divorce/separation rates as fact and not likely to change. Indeed, somebody just told me THAT last week – to not expect the divorce rate to decrease. EVER!! So we’ve accepted the fact that separation/divorce happens, as well as the reasons for them, including infidelity.

The dynamics of stepfamilies, then, is the epitome of contradictory family values, and the stepparent is the biggest victim of the double standards. We are all led to believe that we can love anybody we want – and that love can last forever if we just try hard enough. We are all led to believe, thanks to movies like Yours Mine and Ours, that we too can form a blended family and everybody will live happily ever after. However, anybody who has been in a stepfamily knows that this is not the case. The reality is that stepparents and stepchildren do not automatically or instantaneously love each other just because the adults in the family get remarried. As a matter of fact, in many stepfamilies (blended families) the love doesn’t come until several years down the road. In other stepfamilies, the love NEVER comes. That is one reason why the divorce rate for stepfamilies is so much higher than the rate for biological/traditional families.

We do not choose who we love. Moreover, we cannot make another person love us. We choose how we treat people. We should ALWAYS choose to treat people fairly, courteously, and with respect, which is especially important in stepfamilies. Not instantly loving stepparents or stepchildren is OK provided that you treat them the right way.

Stepfamilies are a case in point. We expect the stepparent to automatically love the biological children upon the marriage to their bio parent; yet, we don’t hold the kids to the same standard because they are “kids”. Then, if the kids try to break up the marriage because they are not happy about having another parent, the stepparent is expected to be the bigger person and not get frustrated or upset. Many parents revolve around the children in hopes to make them happy without understanding that the only thing the children want is for their biological parents to be back together again, which is not a possibility in 99% of cases. That is why it is important for stepfamilies to figure out how to make the new union work as 1 stepfamily unit.

Then there is the other side of the double standard, as in the case of Gisele Bundchen. She internalized these family values that the Greater Society has espoused throughout the years. She internalized the message and had taken it to heart. She fully intends and expects to be just as good as her stepchildren’s biological mom. In every bone of her body, she believes that she will love her husband’s children as her own and treat them just as she would her own kids. In that sense, she considers them to be 100% her own. The other side of that same coin, though, is a simple fact that they are not her children. No matter what she does from now until the day she dies… even if she deeply bonds with them, she will never have a biological bond with them. She can never replace their mom. She knows she can’t also and wasn’t expecting to try and replace their mom, yet she believes she can be all to them that their mom can be. Indeed, she can – all except the level and quality of love (bond) that only exists between a mom her biological child.

The other factor that wasn’t considered – and usually is not known or understood – is how the stepchildren really feel about their new stepmom, the new family, new environment (neighborhood, house, friends, etc). Nor are the feelings of the biological mother known or understood. Many, many women have a difficult time seeing their ex-spouse with a new woman. This is particularly harsh if the new woman is perceived (by the ex-wife) to be prettier, younger, more well-known, or more glamorous. This can be harsher still if, God forbid, she was the “other woman” while the biological dad was still married. Women more than men can be very insecure about these qualities in themselves. When they see their ex with a new woman that has these qualities, their insecurities come to the forefront. In the mind of many of these ex-wives is that he broke up with her because she wasn’t pretty enough, was too fat, too thin, too frumpy, not glamorous enough, … you get the picture. In actuality, those reasons usually have nothing to do with the reasons for the initial break-up. Suddenly, things that didn’t seem to be an issue before is now an issue for the ex-wife. This puts the stepmom in a precarious position from the start. It is a long uphill trudge that frequently catches her by surprise, to say the least.