Understanding your role in the family
What is a 'normal' stepfamily?
first families, stepfamilies have very few role models or social
expectations to live up to. In daily life we’re surrounded by models of
families with two adults and their children and we’re even used to often
seeing single parent families portrayed in the media. But there are few
examples of stepfamilies and even fewer 'successful' or
'happy' stepfamilies. Consequently, it can be very difficult for
stepfamilies to know how they are expected to behave.
Role ambiguity is something which most adults in stepfamilies face at some point. There
are no rules for stepfamilies. There are no social norms or endorsement
of stepparenting as there are with biological parenting. Psychologist
have for may years believed that the stress experienced by stepmothers
in particular was in part caused by the absence of so called 'social
norms' or role models to help them define their role within the
Am I doing OK?
the roles are so vague, it’s difficult for stepparents to work out
whether they are succeeding or failing in their roles, leading to ever
increasing confusion and anxiety. This issue of role ambiguity is a well
recognised issue within stepfamilies with researchers suggesting that
the stepparent often lacks a role model and whatever expectations they
do have of themselves, tend to be unrealistic. As a consequence some
stepparents feel frustrated in trying to fill a largely undefined role
for which they have no training. Often the situation can be worse for
stepfathers as they are more often the part time stepparent and as such
have fewer socially accepted role prescriptions than stepfathers.
Define your own role
that there are no prescribed roles for stepparents it’s therefore left
up to them to carve out their own role in the stepfamily. Some happily
take on board a strong parental role, becoming an extra parent to their
stepchildren. They set and impose household rules for their
stepchildren, they discipline them, care for them when their partners
are absent, are included in school activities and major milestones such
as weddings and graduations. Others are happy to take more of a
backseat. They support their partners but are less involved in their
stepchildren’s day to day activities.
Which role is the best?
are many reasons for taking a different stance on your role within the
stepfamily. For stepparents who care for their stepchildren for the
majority of the time, it makes sense for them to take on board a
parental like role, whereas for stepparents who rarely see their
stepchildren it’s clearly harder to take a more active role. However,
neither approach is right or wrong and depends to a large extent on your
individual family circumstances. Issues only arise when there is a
discrepancy between family members on the role the stepparent should
play. Stepparents have to find their own way, work out what seems to
work for them, their partner and their stepchildren.
Tips for defining your role
Work out what it is you want to be and what type of role you want in
your family (eg. an extra parent, a friend, take more of a backseat and
be led by your partner).
2. Understand your partner's perspective. What do they expect of you?
3. Are your views similar or do they differ wildly? If they differ, try and understand why.
Work out the major differences and try and compromise, It's important
that both of you consider each other and the children involved.
Once you've reached agreement, try and stick to it. You can always
review things over time. Nothing is fixed forever but for now, work
together on establishing the roles you've agreed on for the family.