“Competitive love in blended families creates sabotage in the blended family relationships.” – Ron Deal, Blended and Blessed Conference 2020
My husband, Mike, and I had a great time at the Blessed and Blended Conference 2020 on Saturday, April 25th, from our own house.
While it was originally supposed to be in Houston this year, due to the pandemic, it was instead livestreamed to every stepfamily couple for just $19, and thousands of stepfamily couples from around the world tuned in.
For me, one of the highlights of the day was the discussion by Ron Deal, President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, about the loyalty conflicts between parents and children in stepfamilies.
It is very common for stepparents to feel left out and sometimes even competitive with their stepchildren for the attention of their spouse. It is also common for the spouse to feel pulled between their spouse (the stepparent) and their biological children, and for the children to try and keep the biological parent to themselves and not want to share with the new stepparent. Those dynamics often occur in stepfamily life.
Ron talked about how to equalize those dynamics and understand them. He addressed how to empathize with each of the people in stepfamily life and what adults can do to in their marriage to support one another and the children, so everyone is able to work together and not be divided in the family.
Those are the kinds of issues that I am often asked about and successfully help resolve with couples and families in my practice. Usually, I can ask the couple to make just small changes in the way they address these issues, and it can create big rewards for everyone in the family and take the competition and conflict out of it! Here is the advice I usually offer.
First, the couple needs to come together
They each must seek to understand the other’s point of view. If the issue is around the bio parent spending more time with the bio children, and the stepparent feeling left out, the bio parent needs to hear, acknowledge and honor the spouse. Discuss the feelings of being left out. The stepparent should then hear, acknowledge and honor the bio parent’s feelings of being conflicted between their children and spouse.
Second, stop competing with the stepchildren
Stepparents need to see that they do not need to compete with their stepchildren. They must give it time and work with their spouse to make the transition. When they need time with their spouse, they must request it. Finally, and most important, they must not resent their stepchildren for needing the assurance of their bio parent during this time of transition.
Third, bio parents must evaluate their behavior
They must look at the amount of time the give their bio children versus their partner and stepchildren, and make adjustments carefully.
For example, if the bio parent has their children in their home most of the time, they may need to gradually adjust the time they spend putting the bio children to bed from 1 ½ hours to 45 minutes, so that they have time and energy to spend with their bio partner each night. That is appropriate and can be done in a way that is not bad for anyone. Single parents often get into habits of longer bedtime routines when it is just them. It is okay to adjust the length of bedtime routines as long as they are kept intact.
Or if the bio parent is rarely with their bio children except for the weekends, the stepparent needs to grant his her spouse time to spend time with the children. In the summertime, when everyone is together for six weeks, bio parents must make adjustments to create time for their spouses each day. That is why it takes time to work out these issues. Schedules change.
Fourth, spend time with the stepchildren
Finally, the stepparent and stepchildren should start to develop their own relationship. When they are not competing for attention from the bio parent, they can focus on being together and building their own bonds. It takes time and effort, but it is critical to forming a new family unit.
Family Life Blended is a faith-based community that has meant a great deal to my family. The group hosts the Blended and Blessed Conferences each year and shares resources for stepfamily couples on their website. If you are interested, you can sign up for the newsletter, listen to the podcast, and join us next year at the conference. (Stay tuned, as my husband, Mike, and I have been asked to be guests on the Family Life Blended Podcast coming up this summer. I will let you know when.)
You may also want to check out Ron’s latest book: Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages and Becoming Stepfamily Smart by Gary Chapman and Ron L. Deal, Northfield Publishers (2020).