Many couples make the mistake of thinking their stepfamily is no different from the traditional or first family unit. Failing to have a solid understanding of the significant differences between the two usually creates massive conflict and confusion.

Traditional families are born out of love, hope, and have strong biological and legal ties. The adults have time during the honeymoon period to establish family values, norms, roles and responsibilities, and to build a strong couple identity and relationship.

The children all live in one house and are members of one family unit. There are few, if any, loyalty issues. The children are treated equal; family and parental conflict is minimal. Family finances and inheritance are not usually issues.
Stepfamilies are born out of loss and grief due to family separation and divorce. Members of the extended family and community may not support the marriage.

There is no honeymoon period and the adults become 'instant parents'. The parent-child relationship pre-dates the couple relationship. These two factors make it very difficult for the adults to build the critically important couple relationship that is needed to stabilize the new family unit.

Not all family members of the stepfamily live in the same home and the children are often members of two or more families.

Planning family activities and events must take into consideration the children's other biological parent as well as visiting stepchildren.

Each adult feels differently about and is treated differently by the same child. There are complex loyalty issues and the stepchild may be hostile and reject the stepparent. Attachment and bonding may take years or may never happen between stepparent and stepchild.

The level of conflict in the stepfamilies is higher especially in the early years and is often related to finances, inheritance, child management, and differences in family values and culture

Becoming a Stepfamily

Each stepfamily goes through a own unique developmental process on their journey to becoming a stepfamily. The factors that influence the stepfamily journey are wide-ranging and varied. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

The level of awareness the adults have about stepfamily dynamics and relationships

The length of time each adult was a single parent

The length of time each the child lived with their single parent

The number and ages of the children each adult brings to the new family unit

The individual family culture and traits of the two single-family unit

The age and developmental stage of each family member

Unresolved grief and loss issues

Individual temperament traits such as adaptability and flexibility

Communication, problem solving and conflict management skills

The level of acceptance and support from extended family, friends, and the community

The business of merging two single parent families

If you ask any successful business person if they would merge their business with another without prior discussion and a solid plan they would say NO!

Business and families who seek to expand and merge with another require careful planning.

Why? Each partner brings their own values, beliefs, roles, expectations, rituals, and ways of doing things. Each must negotiate these and other items and resolve conflicts before they will enjoy a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship.

Failing to find this middle ground may result in confusion, conflict, and the partnership may not survive - just like stepfamilies who fail to plan. Some stepfamilies may not survive the emotional turbulence while others eventually find their way out of the stepfamily maze.

If you are planning a stepfamily merger, do your homework. Research the issues and dynamics, attend a workshops, or talk with a qualified counsellor. The benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Author's Bio: 

DIANNE MARTIN, B.S.W., is a mom, stepmom and Certified Stepfamily Counselor residing on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Canada.

Combining her intimate knowledge of stepfamily dynamics with her professional experience, Dianne offers a dynamic array of specialized counselling and educational programs for stepfamilies.

In addition to traditional counselling, Dianne also offers cybercounseling to Canadian stepfamilies and single parents planning to remarry. Visit her at www.