A myth as defined in the Oxford dictionary refers to a widely held but false belief or idea. There are many myths around step-family life that strongly influence the way both adults and children adjust to their new family and how they interact with each other. These myths, if treated as the truth can be roadblocks in the journey to successful step relationships.
Myth #1 – Automatic and instant love between stepparent and child
This is the first most prevalent myth held by both step and biological parents. Just because you love your new partner doesn’t automatically mean you will love his or her children; or that the children will automatically love you no matter how awesome you are. Establishing relationships takes time; it’s not an overnight thing. Research has shown that the average step-family takes between 4 and 7 years for the various bonds with everyone in the family to form and develop into healthy functional relationships. Also recognize that you might be willing to have a relationship with someone who is not willing to reciprocate. That will obviously hurt, and when people hurt, they may become resentful and angry and end up hurting others. Be aware of this and exercise patience and the best way is to have the children take the lead. Go at their pace.
Myth #2- Stepmothers are wicked
This myth is based on hundreds of fairy stories which we have all heard or read as children. Cinderella, snow-white, Hansel and Gretel all had evil stepmothers in them. Not to mention all the inshas we wrote in school about ‘mama wa kambo’. All these stories paint a picture of stepmothers being evil and cruel to their stepchildren. This negative perception of the stepmother role impacts step-moms in particular in a very personal way making them extremely self-conscious about their role. It is for this reason that many are not proud of themselves despite the good work and wonderful families they raise.
Myth #3 – Adjustment to step-family life will be fast
Couples with children from previous relationships are often very optimistic and hopeful of the new family they are forming. They assume after they say ‘I Do’ life will go back to normal. This is a huge misconception that sets them up for failure.
Step-families are very complex families and time is required for people to get to know each other, to create good, healthy relationships, and to develop their own history. This can take years and varies from family to family depending on factors such as age of the children, who has permanent custody of the kids, unresolved hurt or loss among others.
Myth #4 – Step-families formed after a parent dies are easier
As with every loss, people need time to grieve. Remarriage may reactivate unfinished grieving. Another problem is that it’s difficult to think realistically about a person who has died. The existence in memory and not in reality means that they get elevated to sainthood. No one ever speaks ill of a dead person despite their flaws when they were alive. A step-parent might find out they are competing with the ghost of a former wife or husband to their spouse which is a battle that cannot be won. Be sure to allow everyone including your spouse time to grieve.
Myth #5 – It’s a family like any other
This is the myth that says you will be just like a biological family. The truth is step-families are completely different from original families. They have different dynamics and handling them like the traditional family can only lead to strain and stress in the various relationship leading to failure.
These myths have been there for a long time and are deeply ingrained in the society we live in. It is however possible to look beyond them and do what it takes to unite the families and not tear them apart. Getting information or coaching about the new family before the marriage can help step-parents with relationships, family dynamics and in turn avoid problems later on as well as build confidence in dealing with any challenges faced.