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Two thirds of step-parents feel they’ll never be ‘fully accepted’ by their new family (with case study)

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One in three step-parents have such a difficult relationship with their step-children they cannot wait until they leave home, research has shown. A study, examining the complicated dynamics facing those who leave an existing partner to ‘take on’ another’s family, found that despite the increasing number of modern families comprising of more than one set of parents many find it a struggle coping with the trials and tribulations which come with the territory.

As well as adapting to becoming a parent to someone else’s child – often soon after a traumatic separation or divorce – step-parents also find themselves at loggerheads with their new partners, with issues such as discipline and money proving regular stumbling blocks.

Other fall outs included rows over whether they were being ‘spoilt’ or allowed to ‘get away’ with too much and the kids playing parents off against each other.

Ex-partners demanding too much money or not being willing to fairly contribute towards the costs involved with bringing up the children also causes issues.

The study also found as many as half of the step-parents who took part in the research said they had come close to breaking up with their other half as a result of a bust-up over the children, leading many to admit they are looking forward to them flying the nest as ‘it will make life easier’.

The ‘Family Dynamics’ report, carried out among 1,000 step-parents by law firm Slater & Gordon, also found two thirds of those who took part in the research feel they will never be ‘fully accepted’ by their new family.

Amanda McAlister, family lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said:

”The simple fact is that the traditional family dynamic is a thing of the past, and families come in all shapes and sizes now – so a report like this is really quite sad.

”People need to rise above the difficulties that they have experienced in their marriage and if they get very clear and well documented arrangements for residency and what each person’s obligations are then the process can be done amicably.

”Mediation can often be crucial for couples to remain harmonious after a divorce and can often help make sure that the process of separation is considered fair by all parties.

”If everyone agrees the arrangements are fair it makes the process a lot easier and paves the way for a step-parent to be in the best possible position to build a rewarding and positive relationship with their step-child.”

The research uncovered a string of major flashpoints and trigger topics, including many which push parental relationships to the brink of destruction.

These included negotiating holidays and half-term breaks with the child’s biological parents, not being included in ‘family events’ and how to get on with the ex.

More than a quarter of step parents have to spend time alone at Christmas or Easter while their partner spends time with their ex and the kids.

Additionally, as many as one in four step-parents admit they feel like they are in competition with their step-children’s biological parents at Christmas and on their birthdays.

And a similar number claimed they were regularly embroiled in disputes with step-children which resulted in insults such as ‘you’re not my real parent’ being hurled at them.

Other typical barbed comments include: ”I hate you”, and ”things were fine before you came along”.

Another bone of contention is their current partner’s ex – 15% said they ‘don’t get on at all with them.’

Amanda McAlister added:

”Residency arrangements are often key here, and the best thing to do is to consult with a legal expert to make sure all the pitfalls and areas that could cause problems and resentment are discussed and covered from the very beginning.

”Relationships are hard but to hear that some step parents are considering ending a relationship over their partner’s children is sad and unnecessary. There are always ways to resolve conflict and come to an amicable agreement.”

Just 17% of those who were polled said they enjoyed a ‘positive’ relationship with the children’s actual parent.

Of the step-parents that have their own biological children, 26% said they couldn’t help but compare the behaviour of their own kids against that of their partners.

And 15% said they rarely or never have a pleasant conversation with their step children.

But that’s hardly surprising when more than one in ten said their step-kids regularly screamed at them and blamed them if they didn’t get their way.

Anastasia de Waal, Chair of Family Lives, a charity that provides support to families said:

”When two families merge into one it’s always going to be tricky but with the right support and when people focus on being fair and talk through issues and maintain a civil relationship with their partner a lot of these difficulties can and will disappear.

”Putting the children first and seeking impartial and non-judgemental support, counselling and advice from experts ensures that people are in a better position to develop positive relationships with new additions to their blended family.”

CASE STUDY (no pictures)

Rachel Lindsay, 36, has been with her husband Mark, 46, for eight years (married for three).

Mark has three children aged 20, 18 and 11 from a previous relationship which Rachel admits has put a strain on their relationship.

Rachel said:

”I don’t think a lot of people realise that having step children is a life long commitment that will totally change your life forever.

”I think a lot of people come into it thinking it will be a few years and they will be all grown up and starting lives of their own but it doesn’t work that way, the children will always be a massive part of your partner’s life and in turn your own.

”I have come into their lives at a time of turmoil and this has been difficult. I think being a step parent often means you do a lot of harder things of parenthood such a disciplining and moaning to the children without the benefits.

”The children never come home and tell me they love me which I understand, I’m not their real mum.

”I wouldn’t say I was naïve when I started my relationship with Mark but I certainly didn’t realise the impact his family would have on our lives together.

”At first we had a lot of time for each other as the custody was shared which meant we had a lot of free time however as the years have gone by the situations have changed.

”I now have one teenager living with us permanently and the youngest has shared custody with his mother.

”It is tough. It’s all the little things which lead to arguments and make a relationship more difficult. Holidays, quality time together, parenting styles, visiting family, chores it all becomes difficult.

”The children all respect me and we have a good relationship but I know it will be easier on our relationship when they grow up and leave home but my role will always be difficult and I have had to accept that fact.”