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Subunits in stepfamilies

Jcksjj's picture

I saw this in a comment on another site and love it: I was just earlier today thinking about this and just happened to come across this comment referencing it when I've never seen it mentioned anywhere else before:

One of the best things we ever did was talk to a therapist who explained to us (my husband, really, who felt enormously guilty about doing anything fun when we didn't have his kids as well as ours) that in a stepfamily - there are different sub-families. My stepdaughters are a unit in and of themselves, because they go back and forth between two houses. My stepdaughters and their mom are another separate unit, with shared memories and traditions that are unique to them. We are a unit - all of us, the stepdaughter, our kids, my husband and I - but the unit made up of just our kids and us is just as valid. We are a family too - not a family that's missing two members because they are with their mom. It really helped to eliminate the guilt. We love having all the kids together, but it's okay when they're with their mom and it's just my husband and I and our three kids. That's valid and whole, in and of itself.

That's the conclusion I've come to: we tried to make it all one cohesive unit exactly like a nuclear first family and it just isnt. The kids have 3 totally different situations and it's just different - the subunits perfectly describes it. 


tog redux's picture

Yep. And in my case, with no bios shared, DH and his son are a unit without me, as DH and I are one without SS.  And that's OK.

Jcksjj's picture

That one sounds easier to navigate. It was much easier when it was just me and ODS and DH and SD. Then we could split up and do things and it was okay. But now if I want to do something with just my 3 bios DH wants to come with since it's also 2 of his bios BUT then either its expected that SD will come too or hes all mopey and tries to defer the plans until she can come with. So I guess the subunit of me and my bios is the "less valid" one.

tog redux's picture

Definitely easier with no bios. But my DH also wasn't the type to insist we save every fun event for when SS was around. 

shamds's picture

With our 2 kids. My skids do not come along. Especially since i’m australian we visit my country every year to see my dad, my skids are not our family. 

We are managing the relationship of our family unit with my dad which only me/hubby and our 2 kids together. 

Skids coming along would be just for a holiday, not to manage any familial ties

Jcksjj's picture

We have with our 2 bios and not ODS or SD once a year on our anniversary because the bios are so young, but where it gets tricky for me is that I want to do some things with all 3 of my bios and then he gets all huffy that it's just SD being left out - even though she does tons of stuff with just her mom also. 

strugglingSM's picture

I think people having an understanding of this is key to success of step-families. Unfortunately, I don't think many people can wrap their heads around it. I also think many people - including divorced parents, but especially their families - have difficulty letting go of the original family unit. In order for divorce to be successful, everyone...and I mean everyone...has to accept the "new normal" and that means everyone has to adjust the way they interact with one another. 

I think this is especially difficult on stepmoms, because society, ex-wives, and extended families love to tell the children that their father has abandoned them to spend time with his new wife or new family. For example, my DH's family was offended that he and I went on a honeymoon. They are also offended when we go to see my family and don't take SSs. Um, if I travel across the country to see my family and friends, I like to spend that time with my family and friends, not entertaining SSs who could care less about seeing my family and friends because they are of no relation to them. DH and I are going to my home state in about a month to attend my cousin's wedding. We are not taking SSs, because a) they were not invited to the wedding; and b) they will be back in school by then. MIL and BIL are beside themselves that DH and I are not taking SSs on a summer trip, but then have the nerve to go someplace ourselves. It makes me want to hide everything we do from them. BIL even took SSs on a vacation himself because he was so upset that DH didn't take them somewhere. We paid $17,000 in legal bills this year to deal with BM's demands, so sorry, but there's no budget for a vacation for SSs. Also, DH doesn't plan anything and I'm certainly not putting in all the work of planning and paying for a vacation. 

Meanwhile, DH's family thinks it's great when BM goes away with her husband, because she "needs a break." DH and I, however, are supposed to sit home and do nothing if SSs aren't around, all so DH is not seen as choosing me over his children. 

Jcksjj's picture

Oh absolutely. We have the same issue with MIL. She actually hates BM and at the time wanted DH to get rid of her but back when BM was around she was allowed to run the show completely. DH was pretty young when BM got pregnant and they only got together to force things to work because of her getting pregnant. So they were both still very dependent on their families of origin. Now that he actually has an adult family/life and MIL isnt allowed to run the show shes extremely angry and guilt trips him about leaving the person that she told him herself to get rid of. And of course BM didnt want to let go for all the usual reasons. MIL also expects us to completely run our life around SD even though we have 3 other kids- 2 of which are her bio grandkids.