In a study published in the Journal of Social Work, Brigham Young University (BYU) researchers identified three keys that will increase the odds children and their stepdads will have a close, happy relationships and the stepfamily will thrive. One of the study’s authors is Kevin Shafer. Shafer is an assistant professor of Social Work at BYU.
The three keys are:
1) Moms need to let their children know they can communicate openly and honestly about stepfamily issues. According to Shafer, kids figure their mom will side with her new husband so there’s no point in discussing things.
2) The mom and stepfather need to let the kids know their couple’s relationship is a good one. Shafer noted, “It’s important to keep arguments in front of the kids to a minimum.”
3) And finally, the stepfather and mom need to agree on how they’re going to parent.
I’m totally on aboard with the points made in items one and three. However, the record needle scratched when I read number two. Can children really know their mom and stepdads relationship is a good one?
Shafer seems to be inferring a minimum number of arguments (whatever that is) in front of the kids or the absence of arguments altogether is what will communicate to the children the couple relationship is a good one. Is conflict in a relationship bad? Seriously?
Several things come to mind:
1) Couples arguing about the kids or issues related to the kids, in front of the kids should never happen whether their stepchildren or biological. These discussions need to take place out of earshot of the kids.
2) Mother and stepfathers should not use the children as confidants especially to share anything of a disparaging nature about the other parent. I liken this to forming an unhealthy alliance with someone who is not emotionally mature enough to deal with the information given. Everyone loses when you engage in secrets.
Secrets undermine the credibility and authority of the parent and weakens the foundation of the marriage and in turn the family.
3) A mom and stepfather should be modeling a healthy relationship in front of the children. If they are children of divorce they have already experienced an unhealthy relationship. Part of modeling a good relationship is engaging in conflict.
Engaging in conflict is a natural part of our existence. Specifically, embracing and resolving conflict in a safe and healthy way is what we should want in our marriages and what we should be modeling for our children.
I didn’t always feel this way. I grew up in a household where the arguments I witnessed were loud and aggressive. Along the way, I internalized conflict was something to be both feared and avoided at all costs. This fear and avoidance manifested itself by suppressing my emotions because I felt they were wrong.
Like the man attempting to hold the beach ball underwater I learned what I was trying to suppress will eventually rise to the surface and show its face in ways it wasn’t intended. The fear and avoidance also contributed to my failure to establish healthy boundaries in my relationship out of an overriding mission to “keep the peace.”
Consistently taking healthy action to resolve conflict in our marriage and blended families will prevent the build up of resentment and keep our marriages and blended families healthy and strong. Get the book Resolving Conflict in the Blended Family.
Read more great tips on how to be a good stepdad in the Archive How to Be a Good Stepdad.