UNDERSTANDING LOYALTY ISSUES FROM A CHILD'S PERSPECTIVE
by Susan Wilkins-Hubley, Coordinator, The Second Wive's Club
I entered my marriage expecting instant loyalty from the children. I wanted our stepfamily to appear as normal as possible. But the reality was that our new family became an interesting mix of personalities with different routines, habits and expectations of each other.
My stepdaughter, Emma, sometimes worried about being disloyal to her mother. At age six she was afraid that her biological mom would not like it if she got close to me. She thought that if she shared things with me, something "bad" would happen between her and her mother. A child caught in this loyalty bind can resent a stepparent who is doing a good job and trying to build a relationship.
Beth, another stepmother I know, wanted to take her stepson Brandon to the public library on Sundays. Brandon and his bio-mom never did this together. Brandon greatly enjoyed these trips and his positive feelings caused him to feel deeply disloyal to his mother. "I shouldn't be liking this so much" was what he was thinking. It is a shame that a small child should feel guilt in this way. Stepfamily life is an unnatural road to travel, even for the most well adjusted children. After all, they never asked for this lifestyle.
It takes a long time to build up a sense of loyalty. For my stepdaughter, it may take many years.
A first time family grows together and bonds over many years. Stepfamilies do not have this luxury of time to develop close feelings. Another difficulty is that non-custodial parents and stepparents do not provide the physical care that is so important to parent-child bonding in the early years. Spending time in itself creates a bond. The loss of time spent with children is many parents' greatest lament in stepfamily life. Children feel this pain too.
To help a relationship grow, a stepparent should find a few activities to share with a stepchild that could allow the
relationship to develop. The loving intentions offered by stepparents may be rejected. Feelings may be hurt. Go slowly and keep trying! Hopefully good intentions and perseverance will be rewarded. The outcome of a comfortable stepparent/stepchild relationship is well worth the effort involved for all family members.