“Guilt is [a] menacing emotion [in remarriage and stepfamily life]. Whether it relates to decisions you made or circumstances your children have been forced to endure through no fault of your own, guilt is debilitating if we allow it to be.
For example, parents who think their children “have suffered enough” frequently loosen their discipline and lower their expectations for proper behaviour. This simply teaches children that acting mad, depressed, or hurt gives them license to get their way.
While we must be sensitive to children’s emotions, we should not fall victim to them. Boundaries need to be firm and expectations maintained.”
Probably there’s not a stepmother alive who hasn’t seen parental guilt acted out in her stepfamily. The ramifications of guilt can be very toxic and spread outwards from the person feeling guilty in many directions.
It’s easy to assume that the biological parent in the stepfamily is the one with an exclusive on guilty behaviour, but I am noticing more and more that I routinely “put up” with situations that are unacceptable to me without flagging that my boundaries have been breached because I feel guilty about “rocking the boat”, or as though my comfort level is less important than that of others in the family.
Then, of course, I also get to feel guilty when those unexpressed boundaries “leak out” in a way that is less than optimal. So I’m getting TWICE the value on my guilty feelings…. tops!
I know that the ultimate solution is to learn to express my boundaries clearly and healthily; it’s a slow process, though, and one that is only just beginning.
How does guilt impact on your stepfamily?
* I love this book, and also own the companion book The Smart Stepmom, reviewed here at The Stepmom’s Tool Box. Ron Deal is incredibly insightful about stepfamilies and his books are full of practical advice. Please be aware, though, that his books are firmly faith-based. I’m an agnostic and find the Biblical emphasis manageable; this might be different for other non-religious or non-Christian people.