Guest Author - Terrie Andrade
Working out roles in the stepfamily is a challenge all by itself, but when the holidays approach, it can be doubly difficult. Coordinating schedules around school vacations and parental visitation; arranging transportation or preparing for the arrival of a child who does not reside with you, full time…can easily turn what is intended to be a peaceful, enjoyable celebration into a time of chaos and stress.
Another source of anxiety for stepfamilies (and often for original families) is the obligatory time with the in-laws. In particular is the visit with the parents of your new spouse.
It is natural for a wife to feel judged by her new in-laws because… she is. They are evaluating how she cares for their son and grandchildren. Quite possibly they are comparing what they see to the way their ex-daughter-in-law conducted herself. This comparison can cause some ambivalence in their attempt to accept a new family member. If the in-laws remain close to the grandchild’s biological mother it’s likely they will struggle with conflicting loyalties which can make a warm welcome difficult for them to offer.
Parents-in-law typically find it most difficult to embrace the new husband of their daughter. Although they place great value on the well being and happiness of their child, their own acceptance of her new love may be delayed. It can take longer for them to develop trust in the new man who is caring for their daughter and grandchildren. Sometimes the opinions and attitudes of others will carry more weight than their personal experience with the man. Positive or negative feedback from the children will influence their acceptance.
In-laws who have not experienced divorce, remarriage and stepfamilies will obviously have less understanding of the dynamics that characterize blended families. Their observations of typical adjustment periods and relationships may be viewed as problems. Problems that were not present prior to the new son or daughter-in-law’s presence. Men or women who receive these kinds of responses from their parents can try to help by educating them on how stepfamilies differ from biological ones. Understanding the unique complexities and adjustment may help them to more easily accept and integrate a newcomer into the family.
Not much is written about the impact of divorce and remarriage on the parents of the couple. For them, individuals are introduced and removed without their consent or approval. Yet, they are expected to be accepting and perhaps silent on the matter. Holding back affection and waiting for signs of permanency are understandable ways of self protection. It takes time to build trust and to finally invite someone into family membership. Respect for everyone’s perspective is critical during this time.
Husband and wives need to talk about their feelings of acceptance and what can be done to bring one another into the circle of family membership. Togetherness promotes relationship where opportunities are created for promoting and expanding family traditions.