Is He With Us For A Long Time?: How Children Accept Their Stepfathers

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Is He With Us For A Long Time?: How Children Accept Their Stepfathers
Is He With Us For A Long Time?: How Children Accept Their Stepfathers
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In Russia, when divorced, children often stay with their mothers, so that stepfathers, in comparison with stepmothers, are in the majority. Difficulties in families formed in new marriages can arise already because children and adults need to at least adapt to each other. Even the very concepts of "stepfather" and "stepmother" in Russian have a negative connotation - in contrast to neutral stepparents in English or sublime beaux-parents in French. We spoke with stepfathers and mothers in new relationships about the complexities of starting a family and myths about “step-parenting”.

Text: Sasha Rau

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Nobody needs

Even two or three decades ago, divorced women with small children were less likely to remarry: society was wary of them. The mood has since become more liberal, but single mothers often fear that the new union will be traumatic for the family. Olga says that after the divorce, she was sure: new relationships should be built without obligations and in such a way that they would not affect children. It was difficult for her to imagine that they would begin to communicate with a strange man, that it would be possible to entrust him with taking care of them. In the end, it turned out differently - the children and the new partner fell in love with each other. According to Anna, she was discouraged from divorce, using the argument "who will need you with two children." The fact that the children were a plus for the new partner was a surprise for her.

Masha, who parted with the fathers of both children, had no problems with establishing her personal life - all three adults maintain respectful relations. At the same time, she specially posted a photo with her daughter in tinder so that those who are not interested in a relationship with a woman with a child would not waste time. But Kolya, whose partner has children from a previous relationship, says that she mentioned this only after a while from the moment she met. He considers this a defensive reaction to the social attitude "children are a burden, they can frighten off a partner." “But if a man is not ready to accept a woman with children, let him go to hell,” he says.

According to sociologist Georgy Antonov, in fact, the presence of children in a partner or a partner scares off a few. “I love the fact that she has children: it gives me the opportunity to fulfill my father's needs, avoiding the difficulties of the period of infancy,” confirms Max. At the same time, the stereotype is still alive that a man who builds a family with a woman with children commits a kind of valiant act - after all, he bears the burden of their material support and solving issues of education, health, organization of life and travel. This design does not take into account that the mother of the children may be independent and solvent. And in many cases, the former partner or biological parent participates in the child's life and helps the former family financially. “I am grateful to the ex-husband of the partner for paying all the expenses associated with my daughter - without this it would be harder,” admits David. Mark says that the moment, whether he can provide for a large family, embarrassed him at the start of the relationship, but there was no problem, because the children are financially supported by their dad.

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Substitute parents

This does not mean that new families are formed smoothly: children, of course, suffer because of the divorce of their parents. Nonetheless, Flora McEvedie, author of A Parachute for Foster Parents, is confident that children feel more relaxed when their divorced parents have new partners. The role of foster parents is to "fix what was broken: take half of the pair and make it whole again."

At the same time, according to statistics cited by McEvedi, 60% of remarriages, in which there are children from past relationships, break up - there is a danger of causing the child to be injured again.And if the children are likely to communicate with the biological father after the divorce, their relationship with the former stepfathers is unlikely. According to Masha, sometimes she imagines what will happen if the partner leaves, and realizes that this will break the heart of her five-year-old son. As Mark, whose ex-girlfriend has two daughters, says, when parting, he felt guilty for letting down the children, did not live up to their expectations.

The acute problem of establishing adequate relations in a new family often arises when the new spouse tries to actively fulfill his role as stepfather or compete with the ex-husband of the partner. If the stepfather chooses a distinctive role, the relationship with the child is more likely to be successful.

In the recommendations of the Russian National Fund for the Protection of Children from Abuse, there are words about the importance of subordination: “It is very important for a stepfather to maintain a distance in relations with a teenager. A new relationship will develop with the least loss if he does not rush to intervene when the wife is raising a teenager or makes him a remark. In the eyes of the child, the new family member does not yet have the right to do so. Such involvement can destroy a relationship before it can take shape."

David explained to his partner's daughter that she already had a dad, and David's role would be better described as a "significant adult."

Sometimes the children themselves offer to call their stepfather dad. As David says, after such a statement of the question, he, together with his partner, explained to her daughter that she already had a dad and he was alone, and for David the name “significant adult” is better suited. Kolya also believes that it is impossible to become the father of children who have a living father - and defines himself as a friend authorized to solve some family affairs: “I try not to teach them wisdom, except for such obvious things as the explanation that you cannot beat anyone ".

Antonina, who has lost touch with her daughter's biological father, says that the girl once asked if she could call her stepfather dad, and everyone agreed. At the same time, his attempts to influence upbringing led to misunderstanding, and the couple agreed that henceforth the partner would try not to criticize, but to offer constructive solutions. Masha and her partner had to turn to a psychologist in order to distribute the roles in the new family: when her boyfriend began to raise children instead of being their cheerful older friend, conflicts began to arise. As a result, with the help of a psychologist, we managed to agree that the stepfather is a separate role. Masha tells how her daughter even made a postcard with the inscription: “You are my odd, but I love you anyway."

Our interlocutors say that the appearance of children, which they, in general, did not aspire to, gave them a feeling of growing up. David notes that he feels such a responsibility with his girlfriend's daughter that he never crosses the road at a red light. According to Mark, the children of his partner had a therapeutic effect on him - he felt not only stronger and more responsible, but also calmer.

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Jealousy, resentment, guilt

The emergence of complex emotions among stepfathers is quite justified. Fathers can also be irritated and tired, but they are taboo for stepfathers. They need to be in control at all times so as not to jeopardize their relationships with children and their mothers and not be accused that the children never became family to their stepfathers. Flora McEvedi divides the hard feelings that stepfathers inevitably have into four categories: jealousy, resentment, rejection, guilt. She says that the stepfather enters the family system, which initially worked without him, he is excluded from the unconditional connection between parent and child, they have, for example, no common memories.

All family members can be jealous of each other: children - mother to stepfather, mothers - children to stepfather and vice versa, if close relationships quickly develop between them. “You want to go to bed with a woman and have sex with her, and then her seven-year-old daughter comes in and says, 'Today I will sleep with my mother,'” says Mark.But the children, he admits, did not understand for a long time who he was and why he was needed, they asked: "Is he with us for a long time?" Olga notices that she is a little jealous of children who constantly want to see their stepfather - she gets the feeling that they feel good without their mother.

According to McEvedi, it is difficult for foster parents not to think about their merits and efforts. They expect gratitude for the work that they put into the formation of a family, and without receiving it, feel frustration and feel like “second-class people”. It is important to stop comparing yourself with biological parents, the expert reminds, it is worth realizing that being on the sidelines is quite fair.

In addition, at the moment a new family member appears, the child's world is turned upside down. The family space has to be transformed to provide space for a new adult who is perceived as an intruder. In self-defense, the child gives back, wants to hurt, because he himself is in pain. A good foster parent should understand that you shouldn't take it personally.

It is difficult for substitute parents not to think about their merits. They expect gratitude for their work, and without receiving it, they feel like "second-class people"

One cannot ignore the fact that a stepfather can pose a potential danger to children. A survey of 930 American women showed that 17% of them were abused by their stepfather - and 2% of respondents said that they were sexually abused by their own father. Although in most cases such fears are unfounded, there are many ways to protect a child from violence, both from relatives and any other people in his life. According to Ani, most of all she was afraid that the new partner would harm the children, especially her daughter (Anya had the same fears about the girl's father). When everything was discussed, the partner treated these experiences with respect and assured her of the purity of his thoughts, and over time it became easier.

Many foster parents suffer from thoughts that they could do better. Substitute fathers, including under the influence of stereotypes about divorce, turn into almost villains in their own eyes - and this provokes feelings of guilt. Mothers also feel guilty in new families. Firstly, in front of the child, for a failed previous marriage, for the appearance of a new man in her life and not always an ideal relationship with him. Secondly, in front of a man, for "burdening" him with his own children and his mistakes. Antonina is sure that her partner initially did not have a dream of meeting a woman with a child, living with him, raising him - therefore, it is important to respect his space.

Although members of the extended family (biological parents, their new spouses and children) are unlikely to live under the same roof, they are more or less present in each other's lives. And each of them should be assigned an appropriate place. A blended family exists happily, provided that everyone in it is important and needed. But it happens that people try to live as if the past does not exist, do not find time to talk with other members of a large family, quarrel or consider each other as enemies.

Research shows that the role of the stepfather can lead to parental stress - far more than that of biological fathers. The mechanisms that contribute to getting rid of it are not yet fully understood. But the data obtained in the course of the study indicate that more free ideas about gender family roles and the ability to quickly adapt are valuable. Stepfathers who possessed these qualities were indistinguishable from biological parents in terms of parental stress.

Photos: Gollnest & Kiesel (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

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