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Excerpt from Chapter Four. Rewriting Roles: A Feat of Family Acrobatics

Imagine starting a new job. You’ve changed careers, so you have no experience. You don’t understand your new job description; you realize you don’t know how to respond or behave.

Welcome to stepfamily life. Few stepcouples, stepparents, stepchildren or stepsiblings—have any experience with their new roles. Every new stepfamily shapes these roles, over time, in a way that works best for them.

When my stepkids visit every other weekend, I get anxious and angry before they get here. I hate it when my husband expects me to be the nice, accommodating stepmother. I love him, and they’re good kids. I feel like such a jerk for being upset.

When his kids come, I feel like I have to store up, in terms of Chuck’s affection and attention, for a few days beforehand. Then I sort of bid him good-bye until they go. It’s like “See you on the other side.” Obviously, we still see each other her while they’re here. But our relationship feels different. I’m not as comfortable being openly affectionate with him in front of his children, and I’m stressed trying to figure out how to be with them, too.

Basically, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job as either a mate or a stepparent right now.

— VALERIE, THIRTY-SIX, STEPCOUPLING FOR TWO YEARS

You’re a stepparent by default. You chose to become part of a couple; the fact that it’s a stepcouple was beyond your control. Your mate came with children, and so you have no choice about assuming the role of stepparent to some degree.

Visiting stepchildren disrupt the pattern and flow of your stepcouple relationship. It can feel as thought their presence and legitimate needs upset the well-ordered and relatively private life you and your mate enjoy. You resist the interruption in your routines. Acknowledge your resistance, understand why you feel the way you do, and gently turn your attention to finding ways to reconcile your roles as stepparent and spouse.

 

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