Each year a larger portion of the marrying population includes 2nd or 3rd marriages, where children are part of the household. For this reason, the number of Stepdads also continues to increase. The divorce rate for blended families also remains dismally high.
If you are a stepdad, you have a higher chance of failure than success- because greater than half of all 2nd marriages with kids end in divorce. Estimates range from 68-73% of all stepdads in the US and Canada will not stay married for a full 10 years. Would you bet your marriage on a coin toss? Well the odds on a coin toss are quite a bit better than your odds of your marriage to a single mom NOT ending in divorce. In fact, the majority of bets on a roulette table will give you better odds than your 70% likelihood of divorce as a stepdad. At the risk of overstating the point; when you reverse the percentage to look at ‘odds of success’ instead of failure; the odds of having a successful marriage to a single mom is between 27-32%.
Throughout the years that I’ve studied these figures and have watched and documented the stepdad dynamic I’ve determined that there is one reason that so many of these marriages fail. That reason is lack of understanding. Couples charge into their marriage—kids in tow—thinking they know what to expect. But they don’t. When someone doesn’t understand the reality of a situation, they fail to prepare properly for success.
Couples who marry and (one or both) bring kids into the marriage rarely understand that it will involve more work than a traditional first marriage. Because they don’t realize the implications, they make little (or no) effort to prepare themselves for the challenges that are ahead. In failing to prepare, they are preparing to fail—and most do.
Though we can pinpoint one reason so many marriages fail, there are several key factors why this family dynamic is so challenging. If a couple is aware of these factors they can address them before they happen, or have a plan of action for how to deal with them, as they present themselves. If these key factors aren’t taken seriously they will eventually create a divide between the couple and ultimately become a roadblock to their happiness and a gateway to their failure.
-The Ex(es): Sure, you might know that she has an ex, but do you truly understand what effect it will have on your relationship with her? Do you know how it will affect your ability to create a relationship with your new kids? This issue becomes twice as challenging if you have an ex too. If there is an ex in your wife’s life then there WILL be a ripple effect on your family life. Depending on the personality and temperament of the ex, the ripple can quickly create great waves of misery.
-Joining a family already in progress: You’re happy. She’s happy—and the kids are happy. Unfortunately the moment you marry—or move in together, two realities will collide. Their family has done things one way for as long as the kids can remember and you’re settled into doing things your way. The problem is—there can only be one set of rules in a home. Someone will have to give ground for the other to be happy. Even if you compromise, there is still change—and people don’t like change.
-Assuming your role: One of the most common mistakes a new stepdad makes is to assume that he knows what his wife expects of him. Guys don’t usually stop to ask if she has a specific role in mind for him, so he launches full steam into being the kind of stepdad he thinks she wants him to be. Many times he finds that he is wrong, and that his wife is not happy about the way he does his job. Ultimately, this may be why many stepdads report feeling unappreciated. He’s gone above and beyond and has tried his hardest but his wife is not happy. He feels confused and he withdraws.
-Children’s ages: A common assumption that Stepdads make is that little kids are easier than older kids. This isn’t always the case. Many psychologists believe that kids from 10-17 are the hardest in general for a step parent to create a bond with, but many younger kids have a very hard time also. Little kids can feel a sense of guilt for liking a stepdad—as though they are betraying their biological dad by liking this new dad. Biological fathers have also been known to alienate their kids against their mom and the new Stepdad. Little children don’t have the ability to sort through such emotional issues. In the end, it can be very tough to bond with any age of step child without a lot of consistent effort.
-Lack of agreement: much like the issues created by assuming your role, many Stepdads run into problems because they assume they know what’s acceptable and what’s not. However, their new wife may not subscribe to the same set of rules. Often Stepdads will find they are surprised by what is or is not acceptable for the kids to do. They may find that they also don’t share the same beliefs about what the appropriate punishments should be. If a couple doesn’t discuss these issues before becoming a family, the issues will remain and become a greater challenge. This situation is twice as difficult in a blended family because there are two sets of rules for the kids—his kid’s rules and her kid’s rules. Kids are quick to point out what they consider unfair and quick to feel the sting of perceived favoritism.
-Stepdad as the bad guy: So there you are—suddenly dad, and mom expects you to be the heavy hand in the family. Now you are in charge of punishing the kids. This isn’t always the case, but when it is, you are in a very bad situation. Your new kids are used to having their mom tell them what to do, and also used to being punished by her. They will quickly get over any punishment she deals them because that’s the way it’s been for a while. But if you are thrust into the position of being the big hammer, the kids won’t get over that very soon and you will have a very hard time bonding with them. Discuss early and agree on what the rules and punishments will be. As the kids misbehave, discuss each offense behind closed doors and let her drop the hammer on them. This may evolve as you and the kids bond, but being the bad guy early on will only doom you to in their eyes as Mr. Meanie-pants.
Though these aren’t all of the issues you can expect to face as a Stepdad, these are some of the most common. Addressing these early will go a long way to improving you family life and your odds of staying together. Neglecting them will guarantee that you have about a 3-in-10 chance of staying married.