There may be no family dynamic out there as unnatural and awkward as the stepparent/stepchild one. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful that people who are divorced or widowed manage to go on and find someone they love enough to marry, when they’ve already gone through the whole marriage thing before. But ultimately, we just don’t really have any manual for how the stepfamily relationship works. The biological parent/child relationship is clear. Everyone knows their roles. Everyone knows the expectations. Maybe not everybody fulfills those roles and expectations all of the time, but even then, it’s usually somewhat clear who did what wrong. There are centuries of built-in guidelines for that relationship. That’s just not so for the stepparent one. I mean, if you think about the history of divorce and the fact that it didn’t exist for a very long time, and then, even when it did, many people didn’t feel comfortable divorcing for decades, the stepparent wasn’t introduced into the dialogue until quite recently. So, naturally, that relationship is often a mess. If a stepparent comes into the picture when a child is very young and essentially raises that child, things are clearer. That’s basically the real parent, then. But when you have those scenarios in which a stepparent comes into the picture later, this drama can come up.
Don’t sh*t talk my real parent
There can be that preciousness around the biological partner that isn’t there. Whether it’s due to divorce or death, if one of your biological parents isn’t present, you are not okay with your stepparent ever saying a word against them. Even if it’s the exact same criticism you make of that very parent, all of the time.
I don’t know you; this is private
To you, this stepparent is a stranger. This is an outsider. He just got here. When you want to talk to your biological parent about something private, you ask to speak to her in another room. You ask the stepparent to give you two some privacy. This, of course, pains the stepparent and your real parent. But you don’t see why you need to share your personal life with strangers to protect others’ feelings.
This isn’t your house; don’t make house rules
It can be very difficult if the stepparent moves into your real parent’s home, and, more specifically, the home in which you grew up. You will always see the stepparent as a guest. So when you visit home and suddenly there are new house rules, clearly created by the stepparent…oh. You aren’t having that. You feel more entitled to making rules in that house than you think he should be.
Don’t try to change my real parent
You may notice your stepparent changing your parent. He influences her in little ways. That’s what happens when people are married. Your other biological parent probably influenced this parent, when they were together, and that didn’t bother you. You didn’t notice it. But your blood boils when you see your stepparent trying to change your real parent – even if it’s for the better. You like your parent the way she is. You’re used to her the way she is.
Oh. So you’re spending our money like that.
Money can become an incredibly sensitive topic. At one point, your parents were together, and their shared money was the family money. You agreed with that. Now there is this stepparent in play. And you see him participating in decisions that involve the spending of money that you see as not his. You may even see that money as yours.
What did you do to my house?!
It’s just tough when somebody new comes in and starts changing things. Like turning your childhood bedroom – which you were only sleeping in three nights a year now – into an office or a home gym. Or when the stepparent wants to transform the backyard you knew and loved into something else entirely. You feel that isn’t their place, even if they help with the mortgage.
You cannot tell me what to do
This is a big one. We’ll never feel comfortable having a stepparent tell us what to do. If you’re still of the age when your parents have some say in your life – which can go on basically until they stop paying any of your bills – you may hate it if your stepparent attempts to lay down any laws. Sure, how you live impacts your real parent which can impact your stepparent. But you just don’t think your stepparent should have any say in what you do.
I didn’t ask for your advice
If you’re an adult and your parents can no longer tell you what to do, they may still suggest what you do. That’s fine. They’re your parents and you’re used to looking to them for guidance. But when your stepparent comes in and gives you unsolicited feedback on how you live your life, oh, that’s not okay. How dare they.
Did you tell my real parent to say that?
Sometimes, you’ll notice that your real parent becomes a mouthpiece for your stepparent. Your stepparent has picked up on the fact that you don’t want advice or orders from him. So he just tells your real parent to pretend it was her idea. But you see right through it, and you don’t appreciate the manipulation.
Father’s Day/Mother’s Day sensitivity
Are you supposed to say something/send something to your stepparent on Mother’s or Father’s Day? Everyone can have different opinions on that. While you may feel you aren’t obligated to, and should receive an award for sending a simple text to the stepparent, your real parent may chew your head off for not sending a card to your stepparent.
Ugh. One more relationship to form
Building relationships is exhausting. You already know your other family members so well. The work is done. And you have enough people in your life you have to make an effort with like coworkers and neighbors. Now you have to put in the work to develop a relationship with this stepparent? It can make you angry because you didn’t ask for this.
You’re not even a real parent
If your stepparent never had children of his own, then any time he attempts to parent you, you can become particularly upset. You feel like he’s no expert, and just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And he can become upset that you’ll never respect his opinion, for a reason he can’t change – that he’s childless.
Holidays are already difficult enough when your parents are divorced. You were driving around town, visiting them for multiple meals on Thanksgiving. Now it may turn out that your re-married parent won’t even be here for the holidays this year: she’s spending it with her new spouse’s family. Whaaaaat? You were not prepared to acknowledge that he had his own family.
I can’t relax in my own home
Having a newcomer in the house can be a nuisance. When you go home, you just want to kick up your feet and talk to…nobody. But you feel pressure to speak to your stepparent if he’s in the room. There are no comfortable silences. You can’t just eat your chips and watch TV, like you do around your real parents. It makes visits to home a bit more tiring.
You can’t judge my partner
You can feel that your stepparent has no place judging your romantic partners. I mean, he came into the picture. And you didn’t interfere. You didn’t tell your mom not to marry the guy. So where does he get off, when the tables are turned, trying to say anything about who you date?