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Dispel stepfamily myths

Misconceptions about stepfamilies can be stumbling blocks for success. Here are some facts to debunk common myths.

Stepfamilies are more complex than first families and can operate differently in multiple ways. Many people are not aware of these differences and often fall for the many myths that surround stepfamilies. Often, these myths strongly influence the way members of a stepfamily adjust to their new living situation. Becoming aware of these challenges and misconceptions is the start to becoming a successful stepfamily.

Myth 1: Love instantly occurs between the child/ren and stepparent.

Fact: Recognize that establishing relationships takes time and that love doesn’t happen overnight.

Myth 2: Older children are capable of handling the transition.

Fact: Research indicates the older the child or adolescent, the longer the transition process.

Myth 3: Children of divorce and remarriage are negatively affected. 

Fact: Although it takes time, most children do recover their emotional equilibrium. 

Myth 4: Stepmothers are mean.

Fact: This myth is based on fairy tales. This negative perception impacts stepmothers in a very personal way. Research tells us that stepmothers have the most difficult role in a stepfamily.

Myth 5: Adjustment occurs quickly.

Fact: Because stepfamilies are complicated, it takes time for members to get to know each other and create a relationship. Typically, the adjustment period is about four years.

Myth 6: Children adjust to divorce and remarriage if one of the biological parents withdraws.

Fact: Children will always adjust better if they have access to both parents. This means being able to see the nonresidential parent and to think well of him or her. Exception to the rule would be those rare instances of parental abuse or neglect.

Myth 7: Stepfamlies form easier after a parent dies.

Fact: People need time to grieve the loss of a loved one, and a remarriage may “reactivate” unfinished grieving.

Myth 8: Part-time stepfamilies are easier.

Fact: Relationships take time, as mentioned in Myth 1. It may take longer for part-time stepfamilies to build that positive relationship.

Myth 9: In the beginning, it is important to establish the stepparent-stepchild relationship. 

Fact: It is more important to strengthen the couple relationship. This relationship creates the step family. Time invested in the martial relationship will strengthen the family.

Myth 10: There is a legally recognized relationship between stepparent and a stepchild. 

Fact: Many do not realize that a stepparent does not and cannot legally authorize many things for stepchildren.

The more stepfamily members understand this transition into a new family dynamic, the quicker a positive relationship will be developed.

Michigan State University Extension offers a multitude of classes and resources on stress and anger management, parenting, conflict resolution and violence prevention. For programs near you, go to http://msue.anr.msu.edu/events.

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