Loyalty conflicts are perhaps the key to the challenging nature of life in a stepfamily.
Loyalty binds of various kinds for kids, a sense of loyalty imbalanced or even betrayed for step-parents, divided loyalties for repartnered parents.
Recently, I read a superb description of the problematic but central role of loyalty in stepfamily life in an article by therapist William J. Doherty, originally published in the Family Therapy Networker, May/June, 1999, pp. 32-38, 54.
Given recent posts on Wednesday Martin’s blog, and subsequent discussion in the comments, about the importance of finding a therapist who is knowledgeable about stepfamily dynamics, I found this article particularly topical.
Interestingly, Doherty notes that he has no personal experience of life in a stepfamily. That being so, all I can say is full marks for empathy!
I really, really recommend reading the full article.
For non-clickers, though, I have included several paragraphs that, for me, eloquently encapsulate the challenges and achievements of stepfamily life.
More than anything else, stepfamilies make us face the unpleasant truth that core goals of adults and children, and of husbands and wives, sometimes diverge in family life. We want a divorce and our children want us to stay married to their parent. We want to remarry and our kids want us to stay single–or remarry our original spouse…. We want our new spouse to love our children the way we do, and they are… counting the years till the children leave home. When stepfamilies nevertheless succeed in creating a nurturing life together, as many ultimately do, it is a striking human achievement.
Conceived after a loss and born in a love affair that represents the renewal of hope for grownups but not for children, stepfamilies strive everyday to reconcile that which cannot be fully reconciled… Stepfamilies are the moral pioneers of contemporary family life, showing us all how to love and persevere in the face of loyalties that multiply and divide but never fully converge.*
*This extract is quoted under the Fair Use doctrine of the Copyright Act 2009 for the purposes of criticism, comment and education.