New study reveals common stumbling blocks for step-families

A third of step-parents have such a difficult relationship with their step children they cannot wait until they leave home.

A study examining the complicated dynamics facing those who leave an existing partner to 'take on' another's family, found that despite the increasing number of modern families comprising of more than one set of parents, many find it a struggle coping with the trials and tribulations which come with the territory.

As well as adapting to becoming a parent to someone else's child - often soon after a traumatic separation or divorce - step-parents also find themselves at loggerheads with their new partners with issues such as discipline and money regular stumbling blocks.

Other fall outs included rows over whether they were being ‘spoilt’ or allowed to ‘get away’ with too much, the kids playing parents off against each other and ex-partners either demanding too much money or not being willing to fairly contribute towards the costs involved with bringing up the children.

Anastasia de Waal, Chair of Family Lives said: “When two families merge into one it’s always going to be tricky but with the right support and when people focus on being fair and talk through issues and maintain a civil relationship with their partner a lot of these difficulties can and will disappear.”

“Putting the children first and seeking impartial and non-judgemental support, counselling and advice from experts ensures that people are in a better position to develop positive relationships with new additions to their blended family.”

As many as half of the step-parents who took part in the research said they had come close to breaking up with their other half as a result of a bust-up over the children leading many to admit they are looking forward to them flying the nest as ‘it will make life easier’.

The 'Family Dynamics' report, carried out among 1,000 step-parents by law firm Slater & Gordon also found two thirds of those who took part in the research feel they will never be 'fully accepted' by their new family.

Yesterday, Amanda McAlister, family lawyer at Slater & Gordon, said; ''The simple fact is that the traditional family dynamic is a thing of the past, and families come in all shapes and sizes now. So a report like this is really quite sad.”

“People need to rise above the difficulties that they have experienced in their marriage and if they get very clear and well documented arrangements for residency and what each person’s obligations are then the process can be done amicably.”

“Mediation can often be crucial for couples to remain harmonious after a divorce and can often help make sure that the process of separation is considered fair by all parties. If everyone agrees the arrangements are fair it makes the process a lot easier and paves the way for a step-parent to be in the best possible position to build a rewarding and positive relationship with their step-child.”

The research uncovered a string of major flashpoints and trigger topics including many which push parental relationships to the brink of destruction.

These included negotiating holidays and half-term breaks with the child's biological parents, not being included in ‘family events’ and how to get on with the ex.

More than a quarter of step parents have to spend time alone at Christmas or Easter while their partner spends time with their ex and the kids.

Additionally, as many as one in four step-parents admit they feel like they are in competition with their step children's biological parents at Christmas and on their birthdays.

And a similar number claimed they were regularly embroiled in disputes with step-children which resulted in insults such as 'you're not my real parent' being hurled at them.

Other typical barbed comments include: ''I hate you'', and ''things were fine before you came along''.

Another bone of contention is their current partner's ex - 15 per cent said they 'don't get on at all with them.'

Amanda McAlister, family lawyer at Slater & Gordon said:   “Residency arrangements are often key here, and the best thing to do is to consult with a legal expert to make sure all the pitfalls and areas that could cause problems and resentment are discussed and covered from the very beginning. 

“Relationships are hard but to hear that some step parents are considering ending a relationship over their partner’s children is sad and unnecessary. There are always ways to resolve conflict and come to an amicable agreement.”

Just 17 per cent of those who were polled said they enjoyed a 'positive' relationship with the children's actual parent.

Of the step-parents that have their own biological children, 26 per cent said they couldn't help but compare the behaviour of their own kids against that of their partners.

And 15 per cent said they rarely or never have a pleasant conversation with their step children.

But that's hardly surprising when more than one in ten said their step-kids regularly screamed at them and blamed them if they didn’t get their way.