In post-divorce families involving children and stepparents, unwittingly a situation can be created in which the stepparent provides quite the gift for all the members of the “original family” – the gift of the scapegoat.
In some way, the presence of the stepparent provides absolution for all involved in the current drama and dynamics of divorce and children. The thinking goes somewhat along these lines – “Why bother working on my part in this drama and chaos, when it is obviously the stepparent’s fault.” A corollary to this is, “Before the stepparent, we were fine.”
Really? All divorced parents like to believe they are in a “good” divorce, making it work “for the children”, while “parenting together”, and the children are “fine”. One of the most interesting fantasies I witness attached to divorces with children is that the overall situation is highly functional and solid communication abounds, and it is the stepparent who has “problems” and seems unable to get with the program.
Again, I ask – really? Because in my thinking, if the situation was that “good”, most people would not have gotten divorced in the first place. Divorce actually implies the presence of a dysfunctional, poor communication dynamic. If it had been otherwise, there is a good chance the marriage would have remained in tact, “for the good of the children”.
I am not saying that there are not very serious, real reasons for divorce- alcoholism, abuse, cheating, etc. But to imply that all is well in this situation, and if it wasn’t for the stepparent, the children would be “great” and there would not be any stress between the households, etc. is absolutely ridiculous.
These situations are DYSFUNCTIONAL and they are dysfunctional well before the stepparent arrives on the scene. And in fact, these situations are dysfunctional in ways completely apart from the stepparent.
If the stepparent serves as a scapegoat, being blamed for the dysfunction, then all members of the original family are free from owning their contribution to any drama that ensues. And this is wrong.
Secondarily, this obviously puts too much stress on the stepparent to “function” in a situation that is really not that functional in the first place.
So, rather than seeking to blame the stepparent or rather than the stepparent taking on this situation, wondering “what I am doing wrong”, I think it would help everyone, including the children involved, if there were a bit more honesty about divorce dynamics and who is ultimately responsible for what. At the end of the day, having a scapegoat prevents everyone’s growth and resolution in what is already a difficult situation.
And if that does not work, as stepparents, I think we need to be quite clear about some dyanmics of the divorce situation and concisely say – “It’s not about me. And, it is SO about you.”