Jo Ball

Article Summary:

How the stepparent can deal with feeling like an outsider.

The Stepparent as Outsider

Four years ago I joined with my partner and his two children. In the beginning it was lovely to have the children around. I was in the Getting Going stage - the fantasy stage - and found family life easy, getting along well with everyone.

As the months passed by I began to notice more and more how much of an outsider I felt in their cosy trio. They had a history together, I didn't. They knew each other's needs, I didn't. They knew the routines backwards, I didn't. They knew how to get what they wanted from each other, I didn't.

Observing I realised that actually this cosy trio wasn't a trio at all, but a foursome. Who was the forth person do I hear you cry? It was the youngest child's mother. She also had a history with these people, she also knew their needs, she also knew their routine and she also knew how to get what she wanted - much to my disappointment.

It seemed like an age that I was on the outside. I was surprised to find jealously coming up in me which hadn't been their previously and I found my own self esteem being knocked.

Now, as The Stepfamily Coach, I realise these to be all perfectly natural and normal emotions and part of the "getting going" stage (see Stages of the Blended Family) of a new blended family.

Many of the people I work with tell me they feel the same. They often feel like they're on the outside, being sent this way and that depending on the children or their mother. I wanted to be important in this family and I wanted to mean something to them. It reminded me of being the office junior again. Making the teas and coffee for everyone, being talked over as the one that wouldn't know anything, even though I did sometimes have a good idea.

I wanted to get stuck in with the stuff that really mattered, but not having any children of my own made me feel worse - everyone knew I had no parenting experience so my opinions didn't matter - at least that's how I felt.

What I didn't appreciate at the time is that, like being the office junior, it gives you a great grounding. You learn all the fundamentals of the job that keep the team functioning effectively... and without the responsibility. That's how I now see this period of bonding with my new family. I was learning the ropes. I was learning how everyone interacted, how everyone related to everyone else and finding my feet whilst gradually moulding my part in their life.

When working with stepparents I encourage them to be patient and to look at this time as learning and growing - for them as well as their new family. If you accept that relationships take time, like a good wine maturing, then you'll find it easier to go with the flow and minimalise any resistance and heartache.

Think of it like growing a plant from a seed. It needs time and nurturing. You can't rush it. It will germinate and grow strong in its own time. If you try to rush it you could end up with an unhealthy plant or even kill it.

Jo Ball, LCA, Dip, is a stepfamily coach and founder of The Stepfamily Coach that offers support and advice to divorced or separated parents and their new families. She's worked with many families helping them to move beyond the stress and strain of blending a family so they achieve happiness and harmony at home.

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