One minute you’re the one and only; next thing you know another four kids have moved in! Worst of it is you had absolutely no say in the matter. No one asked if you minded sharing your home – and your parent’s attention - with a whole bunch of other people.
Step families can certainly cause problems, yet there’s little if anything children can do to prevent natural parents remarrying - Or, come to that, from their being divorced or widowed in the first place.
What you CAN do, however, is find a way of coping, of coming to terms with the situation, making the best of it and even reaping rewards. It takes time, of course, but by applying the following suggestions, you may find your newly extended family proves less of a curse, more of a blessing.
Consider your parent
A parent’s remarriage is a seismic event and it’s only human to worry about its effects upon you. But you’re not the only person to be considered. If your Mum or Dad has met someone who makes them happy, shouldn’t you be happy for them?
Keep the peace
When a couple marry, they become ‘one flesh’ and no amount of sulking, yelling or threatening is going to break them up. Fifteen-year-old Gemma resented her stepmother so much that it eventually led to a bitter fight. Unable to tolerate Gemma’s behaviour any longer, the stepmother insisted her husband make a choice. Her or Gemma. No contest. Gemma was forced to go back to her natural mother, who had also married again.
Count your blessings
Nobody’s perfect. There again, few people are all bad either. However much you may dislike your stepparent at first, be ready to admit they have their good points. In fact, make a list. Be quick also to recognise the kind things they do and say.
A new stepparent may also bring advantages to the family, both financially and domestically, which would doubtless improve life for everyone. And, though they may never take the place of your real father or mother, they could become a wonderful friend. Given the chance!
Don’t get jealous
Love has no limits. Your parent’s love for you is never going to diminish because they’ve developed a relationship with somebody else. Their love will simply expand – and so can yours – to include the new spouse. Best case scenario, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, is that you will in time forge a bond of mutual affection and respect with your stepparent.
Don’t feel guilty
No one can replace a much-loved mother or father, so there’s no need to feel disloyal if and when you grow attached to the newcomer. By the same token, you have a right to go on loving your blood-parent who may have died or been divorced. In the latter case, even if the absent parent was responsible for the marriage break-up, he or she has not divorced YOU.
“You’re not my real mother/father!” This challenge is both immature and pointless. Worse, it can set stepparents and children against one another to everybody’s detriment. Once married, the stepparent is entitled to your respect and co-operation and, by the same token, any discipline is part of their obligation – in fact, discipline should be an expression of their genuine love and concern.
If, of course, you feel they’re being overly harsh or unjust, then do the grown-up thing. Talk it over, attempt to see their point of view and, if they have misjudged the situation, be forgiving.
Learn to share
From being a rather pampered only child of a single mother, Vanessa found herself with a new stepdad and his four children. She didn’t even have her own room anymore! You too may be asked to make sacrifices, which may be hard to accept and cause resentment. Remember though, these new circumstances will be just as difficult for your step-siblings to take on board. They too will be struggling to adjust and may resent you. In this case, it always pays to be kind, even if they snub you or behave rudely. Take tiffs and squabbles in your stride – they happen with natural siblings too!
By showing kindness, treating them as real brothers and sisters, your love for them will grow, along with your readiness to share.
Be willing to adapt
If you’ve been the oldest child, you may have to give up your standing as the ‘man of the house’ or Mum’s ‘best friend’, as these roles are now filled by the new parent. If so, avoid living in the past but accept the situation and move on. You may even be glad there’s another person around to share the family responsibilities.
When stepparents bring their natural children into the home, there are bound to be times when you feel badly done to. “It’s not fair!” echoes from every family in the world - whether the children are fully related or not. Bear in mind, though, that any parent will obviously have a deeper attachment to their natural child than to a stepchild. Even blood-related mothers can have favourites.
You also need to take personalities into account and their differing needs. As long as your needs are being met, does it really matter if someone else gets more attention? If, however, you don’t seem to get enough help and support then why not voice your concerns with your stepparent? Calmly.
Living with step-siblings of different sexes can create moral pressures, especially in this porn-fuelled age. One youth whose home was invaded by four teenage stepsisters admits “I had to put up a mental block concerning sexual feelings.” In a mixed-gender household, it’s essential to behave modestly, not dressing provocatively or doing anything which might arouse undue desires.