Good Morning America showed an interesting segment on “Mom vs Stepmom” on Friday, April 3. The idea came about after a well-known model, Gisele Bundchen, made an innocent comment about her feelings towards her stepchildren. She simply said that she considers them 100% hers. Why wouldn’t she feel this way? More specifically, why shouldn’t she feel this way? after all she it is married to her biological father. Haven’t we all learned that we should love not only the person we are married to, but also their entire family? That includes children, obviously. In-laws, however, are an exception, particularly the mother-in-law. It seems okay that you don’t like them, or at least not get along with them.
Divorce also seems fine. Oh right, we’re told to only marry once, only marry the person we’re in love with, never cheat on that person, and never get divorced. However, the divorce rate for first-time marriages is 50%. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is 66%, and even higher for marriages with children (families). That is, if the couple even wants to remarry. Many couples are choosing cohabitation (living together/living together) because they don’t *want* to get divorced again. It was so painful the first time that they realized why do it a second time.
These rates themselves reflect a contradiction in the so-called family values of our society. On the one hand, we accept the importance of family values, sticking together, loving everyone, treating everyone the same, and so on. However, on the other hand, we have accepted these divorce/separation rates as fact and they are not likely to change. In fact, someone told me THAT last week: Don’t expect the divorce rate to go down. EVER!! So we have accepted the fact that separation/divorce occurs, as well as the reasons for it, including infidelity.
The stepfamily dynamic, then, is the epitome of conflicting family values, with the stepfather being the biggest victim of double standards. We’re all led to believe that we *can* love whoever we want, and that love *can* last forever if we try hard enough. We’re all led to believe, thanks to movies like Yours Mine and Ours, that we too can have a blended family and everyone will live happily ever after. However, anyone who has been in a stepfamily knows that this is not the case. The reality is that stepparents and stepchildren don’t automatically or instantly love each other just because the adults in the family remarry. In fact, in many stepfamilies (blended families) love doesn’t come until several years later. In other stepfamilies, love NEVER comes. That’s one of the reasons why the divorce rate for stepfamilies is so much higher than the rate for birth/traditional families.
We do not choose who we love. Also, we cannot make another person love us. We choose how we treat people. We should ALWAYS choose to treat people fairly, courteously and respectfully, which is especially important in stepfamilies. Not instantly loving stepparents or stepchildren is okay as long as you treat them the right way.
Stepfamilies are an example of this. We expect the stepfather to automatically love the biological children by marrying her biological father; however, we do not hold children to the same standard because they are “children.” So if the children try to break up the marriage because they are not happy with having another parent, the stepparent is expected to be the more important person and not be frustrated or upset. Many parents revolve around children hoping to make them happy without understanding that all children want is for their biological parents to get back together, which is not a possibility in 99% of cases. That’s why it’s important for stepfamilies to figure out how to make the new union function like a stepfamily unit.
Then there is the flip side of double standards, as in the case of Gisele Bundchen. She internalized these family values that the Great Society has upheld over the years. She internalized the message and had taken it to heart. She fully intends and hopes to be as good as the biological mother of her stepchildren. In every bone of her body, she believes that she will love her husband’s children as her own and treat them as she would her own children. In that sense, she considers them 100% hers. However, the other side of the same coin is the simple fact that they are not her children. No matter what she does between now and the day she dies… even if she bonds deeply with them, she will never have a biological bond with them. She can never replace her mother. She knows she can’t either and she didn’t expect to try to replace her mother; however, she believes that she can be everything to them that her mother can be. In fact, she can, everything except the level and quality of love (bond) that only exists between a mother and her biological child.
The other factor that was not considered, and is often not known or understood, is how the stepchildren really feel about their new stepmother, the new family, the new environment (neighborhood, house, friends, etc.). The biological mother’s feelings are also not known or understood. Many, many women have a hard time seeing their ex-spouse with a new woman. This is particularly harsh if the new woman is perceived (by her ex-wife) as prettier, younger, better known, or more glamorous. This can be even harder if, God forbid, she was the “other woman” while her biological father was still married. Women more than men can feel very insecure about these qualities in themselves. When they see their ex with a new woman who has these qualities, their insecurities come to the fore. In the minds of many of these ex-wives is that he broke up with her because she wasn’t pretty enough, she was too fat, too thin, too frumpy, not glamorous enough… you get the picture. In reality, those reasons usually have nothing to do with the reasons for the initial breakup. Suddenly, things that didn’t seem like a problem before are now a problem for the ex-wife. This puts the stepmother in a precarious position from the start. It’s a long uphill hike that frequently takes her by surprise, to say the least.