Do stepmothers have it worse than stepdads?

Family|December 7th 2016

Stepmothers have a harder time establishing a positive relationship with children than stepfathers. That is what the results of a newly published survey seem to suggest, at least.

Research from relationship charities Relate and Relationships Scotland has found that while 65 per cent of stepfathers claim to have a good relationship with their stepchildren, the same can only be said for 57 per cent of stepmothers.

These numbers were collected from a survey of more than 5,000 people across the UK. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the charities also found that stepparents have better relationships with their biological children than they do with their stepchildren. Overall, just 61 per cent of stepparents claimed to get one well with their partner’s children while 91 per cent get along with their own.

It’s sad that this should be the case if a survey of 5,000 people is truly representative. Trying to turn two separate families into one “blended family” is a daunting task at the best of times. Parents can start off with the best of intentions. They can sometimes naively assume that because they are happy with their new partner, their children will be happy for them and all will be well. However, a glance at any fairy tale should be ample warning about how children can view a potential stepparent. Children can see them as a stranger and resent having to spend time with them rather than with their own parents.

Additionally, they may blame the new partner for breaking up their family. Perhaps they have heard their mother lament about this “other woman”. This badly-concealed distress could explain why stepmothers are not as well-liked.

Stepmothers often have to assume some child care responsibilities, too. While admirable, this can be entirely unhelpful if the children in question already resent her presence in the home. Children can make comparisons between the way they are treated and the way their stepmother treats her own children. They can sometimes simply not want a good relationship with their new stepparent. And children can be stubborn. It is not unknown for children to say one thing to one parent, another to the other parent and quite another to a stepparent. They are only children after all. But then there are younger children who can’t say anything at all, they are too young and too scared. They could suffer from all sorts of trauma as a consequence of being pushed into a blended family that they loathe.

If the situation is not handled with great care and consideration for the feelings of everyone involved, it can be a recipe for ongoing disaster. I would certainly not advise any clients of mine to rush into a marriage which would result in a blended family. They must first be absolutely confident that the new situation is going to work with any and all children involved. It will take time. Wishing and hoping are no substitute for truth.

I said something similar when asked for a comment by the Daily Mail. You can read their report on the survey here.

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