When stepfamilies come for mediation sessions, one of the exercises I do is have them evaluate how they are different to Nuclear families.
Why is this important?
It is human nature to take things for granted - not because we don’t appreciate but because it is our “Norm”. Just think for a moment of growing up in your family – Your family routines, rituals, interaction became what you believe was the normal functioning of a family.
Lets look at a few subtle differences between Nuclear and Step-families;
- All members related by Blood
- The pattern of family is “normal”
- The children have no choice in home rules, beliefs and discipline
- Position in the family is known i.e. Mother Role, Father Role, Oldest Child, Youngest Child
- Legal relationship and obligations exist with both parents
- Related through marriage/living together
- Different family backgrounds create difference in what is Normal
- Couple must create a new set of family rules and structure
- Position in the family is unknown or changed i.e. Does the Step-parent assume a “Parenting Role” or are they considered a friend or mentor? Does the oldest child now become the middle child and has to assume a new sibling ranking?
- The Step-Parent has no legal relationship with the Step-child. No legal relationship does not mean no legal obligation however the emotional investment may diminish.
I have just listed 5 difference – there are over 20 that I point out when working with Stepfamilies. Some have a greater impact than others on the family and each affect the functioning of Stepfamilies differently.
Knowing the differences helps a stepfamily to understand why they can not function as a Nuclear Family, some of the sources of Stepfamily conflict and recognize their own uniqueness within their family system.
Whether you are in a Stepfamily or Nuclear family it is an interesting exercise to examine differences. For instance in a nuclear family the couple can list differences in growing up in their biological family vs how they operate in their existing family. Or differences in their beliefs, roles, rules from one family to another.
Just remember…. Differences don’t mean that one way is wrong (unless there was emotional or physical abuse of course). Talking about differences can be very enlightening and can help to create a new awareness and appreciation of one another.
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