My father always said he was going to have more children after the three my mother bore him but we never took him serious and for years we remained his only children until the year I got married, when he had another daughter. I remember wondering why after so many years he still wanted more children and telling him to ensure he lived long as I would be busy bringing up my children and may not have resources available to contribute to my half-sibling’s wellbeing and education.
Suffice to say, he carried his responsibilities till he died but there remains a disparity in our upbringing based mainly on our different mothers ‘outlook to life and the imprint they had on our upbringing and the fact that our father was not the same person he was when we were growing up. Then, he was much younger, more financially stable and could afford to give us the finer things of life. By the time my half-sister came in the mid-90s, our father was much older, the economy was beginning to witness the beginning of its downward spiral and the generational gap between us was very wide.
I didn’t have much interaction with her whilst she was growing up. For the first five years of her life we lived in different cities and with the disparity in age, coupled with the fact that we never lived together made us relate in a different way than I did with my own late sister. In a lot of ways, the only thing we had in common was my father but when he died whilst she was in the university, we ensured that she was treated equally in all ways as we were and as far as I am concerned is the way it should be.
I, however, know things are not so smooth in other families. I know a situation where half siblings do not talk to one another, some even refuse to acknowledge their shared parenthood. This is especially true for the children of the first wife who see the other children as usurpers coming to deprive them of their father’s affections and reaping where their mothers have not sown but also true of the children of subsequent wives who see those in front has having gotten the best their father had to offer.
The truth is that for most blended families whilst the parents are the ones who fall in love and choose to live with one another, the children are forced into the relationship and usually have no say in it. Many parents expect their children to get along with each other but it’s often not the case and many parents never get along with their spouses’ children either.
So how do we deal with the steps and half siblings in our lives?
- Accept that they are there. The truth is that for all half siblings, they have no choice in their birth. They happen to be in our lives and though we may not get along, there is a part of our parent in them. The truth is the same for step siblings, as they do not have a say in who their parents marry.
- Understand that some form of jealousy and resentment will always show up in your relationships and that it will come from both sides- you, at the break in your original family structure with the new entrants and the fact that they may be exposed to more things than you had growing up and on their side, the fact that they are not exposed to the history, privileges and opportunities you may have had.
- Acknowledge their right to the parent during their lifetime and their estate when they die. It so happens that when a man dies especially if he had no Will, that the first wife and her children plan his burial and take over his estate without regard for the input and feelings of their half-siblings. Many a time it’s not the money but the personal items of the shared parent denied them and the rendering of their relationship as inconsequential that hurts most and prepares the ground for years of litigation.
As step parents how do we deal with our step children?
- Treat them equally, sometimes this may not be possible because of their age and background but try your possible best to be fair in your dealings with them with respect to attention, resources and discipline.
- Cut them some slack. It is normal that step children will act out when they see you occupying their mother’s or father’s position. Don’t try to enforce your position on them, don’t insist on taking their parent’s place and don’t at least not in the immediate, put down their parents in any way.
- Be on the same page especially with regards to discipline otherwise, they will pitch you and your spouse against each other. Also do not discipline the other spouse’s child too quickly, let each parent discipline their child first and then when your authority is more established and accepted start to discipline.
- For stepmothers especially- Understand that no matter what you do, children tend to take their mother’s side in any relationship and no matter if their mothers are dead or alive their first allegiance is to their mother and her memory notwithstanding how kind you were to them whilst they were growing up. If you came when they are grown up, they tend to view you with suspicion especially in fear of the dilution of their inheritance. In their mind you will always be their father’s wife and their half siblings’ mother and you must accept that fact and plan on that understanding.
- For fathers who have fathered children from different women – Write a will and do it when you are hale, hearty and sound so no one will say you were not in your right mind when you divided your property. In fact, let them know the contents of your Will in your lifetime, it saves trouble. If you have a step child that you are fond of provide for that child in the Will because the Law does not recognize their right to inherit from you except they are formally adopted.
- Encourage but don’t force open and honest conversations about the dealings or tensions in the home and have individual times with each child whether yours or otherwise.
Dealing with Ex’s
There is only one rule to obey- create boundaries, maintain boundaries and enforce boundaries because your past life will control some aspect of your present life especially where children are involved and as much as possible try to understand the feelings of your present partner who has to deal with the effects of your past relationships.
Finally, blended families can work but it is heart and hard work and it requires time, fairness and equality.