My wife is a step-parent so I asked her, “What’s one thing you’ve learned about being in a blended family?” (Actually, I asked her for more, wanting to make a list of three or five ideas, but I’m grateful to have one.) My wife came up with this one...
“You know what, it’s just not fair. It’s not fair on the kids, the step-parent, or the parent of the kids. It’s not fair on anyone. The step-parent and the parent of the children made a choice (which may not, in reflection, have been wise J), but the children had no such luxury. Remember that you made a choice; I did. Perhaps we didn’t fully comprehend that choice, but we made it and we need to honour it, and that means we need to acknowledge that it is sometimes unfair – but we need to know that it’s unfair on everyone.”
Having lived with my wife for seven years, with and without the children, I have to agree with her. There have been times when I thought, “This just isn’t fair!” But as I explored the issues – usually from three sides, looking at each unique person’s viewpoint – and, almost without exception, there was significant level of unfairness for everyone.
For me, as husband and father, I was torn between my loyalties. I knew my wife deserved number one loyalty, but I also felt sorry for my children because they weren’t always considered how I felt they should have been. I often felt like the meat in the sandwich.
For my wife, as step-parent and spouse, it was often impossible, because there was a clash of values, and what she saw as a lack of respect, which exasperated her. She was often livid because she felt misunderstood and disempowered.
For my children, as young people growing up the best way they could, they would often feel misunderstood and disempowered. This, too, was frustrating.
All members of the family need to feel there is some process or structure for justice in the home. This is about roles and respect. Parents and step-parents have a role to manage the home and the parameters of the household. They need to be respected, but they also need to ensure they respect the children.
The best parents respect children such that children learn first-hand how to respect the parents.
The parents have the work to do to create a just family culture through respect. When respect is given it is ultimately returned. As parents, we need to persevere.
Blended family situations aren’t fair on anyone, but the key is to see the unfairness from the other’s viewpoints. Then we are readier to deal respectfully.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.