SAOPs: Stepparents and Other Partners
What Is a Family Today?
I call Stepparents Stepparents and Other Partners (SAOP™s) and I pronounce the term soaps.
In my own research, I have learned interesting information about blended families and just about all the various types of families that can exist. In fact, in some families, no one at all is related by blood.
"The national divorce rate for second and third marriages is 65 and 75 percent, respectively." -- STEPprepTM
If Stepparents and Other Partners (SAOPs) want to be stepparents, then they need to Step Up and confront the ensuing struggles and the potential joys in their role with effective preparation during the courtship period that preceeds marriage or cohabitation. It won't happen by itself. It usually proceeds along a road that takes a lot of work to travel. If successfully journeyed, rewards can be experienced by the entire extended family of the biologically-related, steps, ex's, and others.
"This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good."
Stepchildren and Stepparents
The slang term "red-headed stepchild" references a person or object (like a "white elephant") that is seen as not deserving respect because of dubious origins. This term comes from the incorrect belief in folkways and various legends that a brown-haired, blond-haired, or black-haired family is not able to produce a red-haired child, especially since natural redheads are rarer than other hair colorings.
In this belief system, therefore, the red-haired child must not be related by blood and should be shunned because they are inferior because 1) they are unrelated and 2) they are likely illegitimate, evil, and promiscuous. This was a popular notion when the Vikings invaded Britain centuries ago and some left behind read-hair children as a result of their pillaging.
Such a person was to be treated as a second class citizen, given only the crumbs and leftovers in life. Today we know that a family of black-haired members can produce a chestnut-brown haired child if somewhere back in genealogical line, one of the black-haired ancestors married or mated with a blond! Some Africans that suffer form malnutrition have resulting red hair and that does not mean they are no longer related to their families.
The relationship term "step" is derived from the old English steop-, meaning "related by marriage, not blood." The Icelandic term stjup- means orphaned. All of this gave rise to fairy tales involving evil stepmothers. Some people today still believe that stepparents and stepchildren are all evil. However, in today's America, we define our own families, so incorrect mythology should be discarded.
One of the best examples of a successful blended family for children to see is that portrayed in Lilo and Stitch movies and TV episodes - an older sister and her boyfriend, little Lilo, the alien Stitch, and the two renegade aliens that are former evildoers who became loving family members in a different system - Hawaii.
What is a family then? - A group in which the members love and care for one another. We can define our families any way we wish. All of those possibilities may not hold legal status and some (like predators abducting children) should be outlawed and stopped. Any rate, stepparents and their future mates should take time to discuss and plan their new combined family and what roles the couple will fulfill.
Advice from My Research and Counseling
Above all, I feel that effective communications and reasonable agreements must be maintained by all parties involved. I believe that steps, ex's, new partners and all the family members of each can become a close-knit community if they wish to do so. When and if there are problems, they should be handled immediately, with the help of a counselor if necessary. An important part of this, I feel, is that the stepparent and his or her new partner must commit to one another in the relationship and as a unit. They will likely need to stand up for themselves in the face of the criticism and possible envy, jealousy, gossip, and passive-aggressive behaviors that can come from extended families when a new stepparent-parent marriage or partnership is founded.
My most practical advise to someone considering marriage to a person with young children is that if you can adopt the children, do so to solidify the family unit and secure your legal responsibility toward the children. Otherwise, there can be problems with emergency medical treatment and other situations. If the only drawback and obstacle is that the children's biological parent is paying $50 a week support and the family will lose it, then lose it. Don't be further tied to someone just because of money or possessions. Let it go and have your own family. If you really cannot afford to raise children without that small sum that the bio-parent may not even be paying anyway, then please do not try to raise children.
If the bio-parent objects to the adoption of young children, I would say to forego the marriage. If the children are older, as in middle or high school, or if younger and you still want to proceed with the marriage or partnership, then you can benefit from these aids:
- 1) Pre-partnership/marriage counseling
- 2) Individual counseling before the new family is formed, and extensive related reading and study.
If various sources are correct, then more step-marriage types of relationships fail than first marriages, because of the stresses inherent to the new mix. Therefore, both partners should become prepared as individuals - that creates healthy interdependence when they join together. People do not complete each other - that's dependence and romanticism and too complex to fully discuss here. People that do not prepare beforehand for the new partnership can become more independent as troubles emerge - that can become like only hostile roommates. Two people don't make a whole - two whole people make something larger and stronger when they come together. They should not be exactly 100% alike and will have different strengths and weaknesses - that's joining diversity for strength, not completing each other. Even in a Christian or Jewish marriage in which the two become one, it's really three people becoming one anyway, not two: Christ, husband, and wife or God, husband and wife.
Did you know that the Hebrew letters (actually word pictures), for man/husband and woman/wife, when placed next to one another, form a word for marriage that has the name of God right in the middle of it? Interestingly, when you remove the name of God, you are left with two of the same symbol. This symbol means "strong teeth" and "destructive fire."
Remind you of anyone? It may be a simple coincidence, but it is a topic for thought. See the literature for reference:
- 3) Open discussion and goal-setting between you and your new partner for several months before the marriage or cohabitation
- 4) Put expectations and agreements in writing
- 5) Consult a family attorney about rights and responsibilities of everyone concerned
- 6) Consider parenting classes and family communication classes
- 7) Have regular family meetings in your new family after the marriage takes place
- 8) When things get rough, see a counselor
- 9) Have a sense of humor and an open mind and continue to learn all you can about being an effective SAOP
- 10) Don't feel too hurt when the kids want to see their biological "other" parent. Establishing a strong relationship with your stepchildren is a long-term process.
- 11) Learn when to back off situations that require the child-related dealings of your new partner and their ex-spouse, but be there for support
- 12) Families should be about love, support, sanctuary, and fun as well as adding something positive to the community; so try to help make that happen
- 13) If it does not work out, know that you did your best and move on.
One woman I know had many parents. When her mom died, her dad remarried and the woman I know called her stepmom "Mom." When her dad died and her stepmom remarried, she called that couple Mom and Dad and they considered her their daughter. When her stepmom died and the stepdad remarried, she called that new couple Mom and Dad and they considered her their daughter. She had lots of step-relatives and most of them accepted one another as family. This helped her a lot through the adoption of her own two children, the death of her own husband, back surgery and some other hardships. They also shared a lot of joy.
This reminds me of the Israeli kibbutz extended family in which all the members share in the child raising and other duties as well as the benefits. All kinds of families can work well.
Here are some good resource links for SAOPs:
Men, Women and Fire
More from Frank T. Seekins
- Are Step Parents Real Parents?
Time Magazine - Of course they are real parents - real members of a real family.
- Smart Stepparenting
Practical advise and inks to additional resources.
- STEP TALK support group
Onine support group designed for step parents to come to learn and vent.
Stepparent information for kids
- University of Michigan
Stepparent resources from the University of Michigan Health Center