Stepfamilies...From Marginalized to Mainstream
Here's the scene: you're a stepparent and you're out in public with your stepfamily. All is going well until someone (a waiter, salesperson - could be anyone that doesn't know you) refers to you as the kids' "mom" or "dad". In our case, this has the potential to create an uncomfortable moment, especially since Annika has never called Mike "Dad"…he's always been "Mike".
Sure it's an honest mistake, but this is just one small thing that can lead stepfamilies to feel a little misunderstood or even unaccepted by the culture around them. In this situation, we may feel compelled to just go along with their mistaken assessment and avoid correction. But, when I've resorted to this response, I later wonder "why?"
Down with Definitions
I find the word "marginalized" to be quite interesting. Here are a few definitions:
- To regulate or confine to a lower or outer limit or edge, as of social standing
- To reduce to the fringes, out of the mainstream; make seem unimportant
- To place in a position of marginal importance, influence or power
Have you ever experienced this feeling of being marginalized? I certainly have - especially right after someone discovers that I'm part of a stepfamily. I suddenly see their attitude towards me shift just a bit…even my daughter has been treated differently by teachers, by friends and their parents. As a result of this, I've noticed that some stepfamilies evade the truth about their unique dynamics altogether and attempt to "fit-in" as a first family. I've also seen these same families relax and openly share their story, soon after I reveal that we're a stepfamily - they realize they won't be judged and that we get it.
It shouldn't be this way! I'm here to say that we don't have to endure those self-conscious, awkward moments and the marginalization that society often inadvertently imposes on us as stepfamilies!
Mainstream and Mighty!
Sometimes stepfamily life can feel lonely, but the reality is that we aren't alone. Take a look at some of these statistics from FamilyLife Blended:
- 100 Million Americans have step-relationships (that's almost 1/3 of our population!)
- 1 in 3 marriages taking place in our country are forming stepfamilies (that works out to almost 2000 new stepfamilies forming every day!)
Sure, stepfamilies are different than first families and have complex dynamics, but they also have strength, fortitude and significance! Yes, it's true that most stepfamilies are formed following some kind of loss (death, divorce or abandonment). That gives them insight and unique empathy for others experiencing loss. Those living in stepfamilies are survivors; they've learned how to overcome difficulties in life and to beautifully rebuild. In other words…stepfamilies ROCK!
As stepfamilies, what can we do to impact the culture around us and alleviate marginalization?
First, Stand tall and proud! Regardless of your history or how your stepfamily was formed, you are NOT second class citizens! Thriving stepfamilies are instrumental and important to the healthy development of our communities and add value to the fabric of our society. This needs to be something we make clear to our kids and model for them.
Next, self-identify! When meeting new people, I never shy away from the fact that I'm part of a stepfamily. In doing this I'm not only honoring my family's structure (because it's awesome), but I'm being honest and authentic (because I have nothing to hide). It's so cool when others are then able to lower their guard and share their unique dynamics. Or…they are given an opportunity to learn how to accept, respect and admire ours (baby steps here)!
Finally…reach out! Being part of a stepfamily can be an amazing journey, but the unique dynamics can also bring about some challenges. Don't be afraid to reach out for help…remember that family relations are intricate and can sometimes be difficult (for first families too). Also, be willing to help other stepfamilies through their struggles - we can support each other and gain stability and strength together!
These days I'm often pleasantly surprised by the positive reactions I receive after identifying as a stepfamily. I'm hopeful that soon, all stepfamilies will be empowered to avoid those awkward moments of feeling marginalized and instead embrace mainstream status as they proudly self-identify and support each other!
QUESTION: How can you challenge the marginalization that can accompany stepfamily life? Leave a comment below: