Blended Family Jealousy
Jealousy often manifests out of insecurities, but sometimes there's another reason for it. Before you can tackle yours, or help anyone else with theirs, you have to get to the root of the issue. You have to identify the "why". Jealousy is a symptom of a much bigger problem; it's an outcry of something more going on inside.
Before we go any further I want everyone to let go of the guilt or shame that envelops us when we feel jealous or envious, because it is very normal. You, nor your children nor even your spouse are not bad because you want something someone else has or want to be like someone else (or another family) because their life seems better, easier, richer, funner, etc. All very normal. It is how you deal with your perceptions that determines your character. When you act out in a way that is harmful to yourself or others driven by jealousy, there's a problem.
Over my lifetime, being part of a blended family since one year old (as a step child and now step mom), I have observed and dealt with what I believe to be the top four jealousy issues blended families face:
Step Sibling Jealousy. This is probably the most common one families face, and for good reason. Kids are often observing their step siblings within their blended family disciplined, rewarded, gifted and even loved differently from them. And thus, the great divide begins. If you notice a divide within your blended family, I'd say start here. Children are all about themselves, so when they see others being treated in the home differently from them, it is confusing and they begin to question their self-worth. They begin to act out by being clingy, disruptive, annoying, withdrawing, throwing fits and basically any other action/reaction that will gain them attention (good or bad). The good news is that you can start to change this right now. Parent and Step Parent in the household need to get on the same parenting page so that all the children feel as if they are in the trenches together. It will bond them to have roughly the same positive and negative consequences, house rules, praise and all the other things across the parenting board. While it is perfectly fine for kids to gain more privileges or have seemingly steeper consequences with age (because that is normal in any household), the age scale should be the same for all children in the home. It is destructive to the family unit for kids to have a separate set of expectations and rewards simply because they are or are not your own.
Parent/Child Jealousy. This one is SO SO common, but not realized or owned up to more often than not. This jealousy exists within the step parent and/or step child in regards to the bio parent's relationship individually with each of them. Step parents often feel like the third wheel, or an "extra" in their spouses life when his or her children are present in the home. Children, on the other hand, often feel threatened when their Mom or Dad is actively engaged in a meaningful partnership with someone else; they feel pushed aside. Both cases create a jealousy that needs to be put in check ASAP or the blended family dynamic will greatly suffer. I hear a lot how the bio parent in the home often feels stuck in the middle between the people they love the most. What a miserable place to exist for all involved. My advice, if you are dealing with any of this, is to not make you self-worth or happiness dependent on anyone. If you are the step parent, know your place (stop letting every little thing offend you) and know what you can do to feel fulfilled and happy outside of this power struggle when your step child is in the home. Give the bio parent space to engage with their child(ren) free from guilt trips, attitude or any other punishment. Distract yourself from your negativity by engaging yourself in healthy activities that better yourself or others. Now to the bio parent in this tug-of-war, I don't envy you. You are stuck between a rock and a hard place. While you can't control everyone else, you can make an effort to be super inclusive (and with big effort comes big reward). Plan and execute actives that EVERYONE can be involved in and enjoy (not that which puts someone on the sidelines to watch). Making memories together and creating new traditions will help erase jealousy. Also, it is important to give each party your undivided attention; everyone needs to be regarded after all. You must to make an effort to spend quality one-on-one time and give plenty of words of affirmation to each; this will help lessen the pain of jealousy's nasty sting. Bio parents hold great power to bring everyone together or keep them apart. Children in this situation are at the mercy of the adults, so lead them to where you want them to end up. If you don't want to deal with jealousy, then make sure you are doing all you can to not give them anything to be jealous about. Remember kids (and the ripple effect of having them with another person other than your spouse) are the number one reason blended family marriages end in divorce. What you allow and promote is what will continue, remember that. If you are allowing your children to come in between you and your spouse, well then that, my friend, is on YOU. Shut down disrespectful and bad behavior. Lay down boundaries of respect and then hold your kids to them. You can parent you child out of almost anything.
Household-to-Household Jealousy. This one is far less obvious, but greatly impacts blended families and the kids that live in them nonetheless. This type of jealousy is when a parent in one household is jealous of the children's other household. Said parent may feel like their kids like their other home/parents/step siblings, etc. better than what they have to offer. This stems from insecurities that are often unwarranted and that greatly affect self-esteem, parenting and overall attitude around the children. Parents beware, this is a very destructive rabbit hole to go down; no one benefits from it. While it is understandable that you may be insecure and allow that to feed your jealousy (because a divorced parent's biggest fear is that their own children will choose their other parent over them and leave), it is not right to allow it to control you, your behavior, or allow that to impact the kids. Should you find yourself bitter, resentful or jealous of your kids' other household, be open and talk to them about it (age appropriately of course). Chances are your fears will be laid to rest and your kids will be able to let you know that they love both homes and both parents (yes, even parents need words of affirmation from their kids sometimes). Children can understand the fear of not being wanted or accepted. Opening up to them (as matter of fact as possible) and being vulnerable is a great way to teach kids about relationship building by building one with them. And should your children fess up to your greatest fears, well it is a honest place to start. No doubt the truth can hurt, but until you know the truth, you have no hope in fixing things. Better you find out where your child stands before they are grown up and it is too late. You can't rewrite you children's childhood when they are adults, but you can, with open and honest communication, intercede and change course if you are proactive early on.
On-Screen Jealousy. It seems silly to think of being jealous about something, someone or people you really know nothing about, but we all do it don't we? Surrounded by social media, movies, TV shows, and even glossy magazine articles, we all fall prey to wishing our blended families (and all the interpersonal relationships that exists withing them) to be as picture perfect as the snapshots and edited realities put before us. We all need to stop this insanity right now because if we don't we are setting ourselves up for a lifetime of disappointment. Self-inflicted failure is a real thing. The truth is a picture may be worth a thousand words, but there are about a billion more that it doesn't touch. Just as the assumptions we make about why two people got divorced are just that, we also idiotically assume how much better someone else's life must be when compared to our own. What we absolutely do not know is what goes on behind closed doors with anyone other than ourselves (no, not even when it comes to your closest of friends). Everyone has struggles. Everyone has failures and has done things and behaved in ways they aren't proud of. Everyone can take a seemingly pretty picture when their hearts and minds are living a very different reality. And when I think of TV shows and movies that romanticize families, I often check in with myself, "Is this how it is supposed to be?" Well yeah sure, maybe in a perfect world, in which none of us exist. So the answer is no, it isn't. There is no ONE way any family is supposed to be. Every one of our blended families has a unique fingerprint with it's own unique grooves, twists and turns. What is a success and win in one family may be something that comes naturally to another. In turn, one family's struggle is not all family's struggle. So, talk yourself off the ledge of being jealous of ANY other blended family out there. Release yourself from that pressure, and focus on what you can do to better and move forward your own family dynamic, one smiling picture at a time.
When I was researching this topic I came upon such great quote that I think we all should print our and put somewhere we can see every day so that we may stay the course correct in our own blended family.
"Jealousy thrives when expectations of parenting and marital roles are unspoken." - Todd Gange
A lot of ugliness thrives in the dark, and jealousy is no exception. Never underestimate the power of vulnerability and communication with each and every person in your family. Voicing your expectations and limitations with one another creates connection and understanding. When that happens jealousy suffocates. Giving others access to your heart and mind gives them the opportunity to love and treat you the way YOU need and not the way they assume. No one who isn't a mind reader will be able to do so; receive that. I thought it would be useful to end with a summation of bullet points to help you navigate all the jealousy that you are faced with in your blended family.
Everyone needs attention.
Be inclusive: make memories together and create new traditions.
Discuss expectations and limitations.
Diffuse with encouragement and affirmation.
Stop competition by establishing like parenting.
Embrace grace and your families uniqueness.
Don't beat yourself up if you or anyone is experiencing jealousy within your blended family, but work on it because you absolutely can help yourself and others who are struggling . Lead. Be the example of change. Light the way so that others don't fall.
Peace and Love,