Sept. 16, 2015, marked National Step Family Day, a celebration of the unique challenges and triumphs of blended families.
Many people have heard of the term sibling rivalry. But what about stepsibling rivalry?
Numerous challenges are associated with living in a blended family, and raising children from two different households is one of them. Often, children feel displaced when the new family forms. They worry that they no longer belong, or that their biological parent will no longer love them. Children who used to be the baby of the family may suddenly find themselves with younger siblings, and the eldest children might suddenly lose that rank. This change in birth order — as well as the divorce and remarriage in the first place — often breeds jealousy and resentment.
Thankfully, jealousy is perfectly normal and there are a few things parents and stepsiblings can do to ease the transition into a blended family.
How to approach jealousy as a parent
1. Spend one-on-one time with each child
When it comes to warding off jealousy between stepsiblings, each parent should spend some individual time with his or her respective children. Fundamentally, jealousy is the fear that something belonging to you will be taken away. Remind your children that they are still a priority in your life no matter what.
2. Spend time together as a whole family
Another way to ease jealousy between stepsiblings is to spend time together as a whole family, ideally in a noncompetitive environment. Walks, puzzles and cooperative games are all excellent ways to bond as a new family unit. Vacations and day trips are also possibilities. “Family time” lets everyone know that they are welcome and included.
3. Don’t underestimate their feelings
Parents often underestimate children’s feelings of grief and loss during a divorce and subsequent remarriage, because children can be very good at hiding their suffering from authority figures. Don’t assume that everyone is doing fine or that no feelings of jealousy or resentment exist. Make sure that each child understands that his or her thoughts, worries and opinions matter. Keep an open avenue of communication.
How to approach jealousy as a stepsibling
1. Recognize that jealousy is normal
Often, people experiencing jealousy also experience self-loathing. Jealousy is such an awful emotion — they might think — why are they feeling it? Alternatively, some individuals refuse to believe that they are jealous in the first place. The first step for dealing with jealousy is to acknowledge that it is present and that it is normal. Simply recognizing jealousy for what it is can relieve some of its pull.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a good way to alleviate the emotional pain associated with jealousy. When many people hear the word “meditation,” they might think of sitting in a quiet, dark room and clearing their mind of all thoughts. Mindfulness meditation, however, involves acknowledging thoughts — not suppressing them. When people practice mindfulness meditation, they review thoughts as they surface without judgment. Mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety and mitigates depression. It can also help reduce the impact of jealousy.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Healthy communication is perhaps the most important thing a person can do to soothe feelings of jealousy. Speak to your parents. Choose calm conversations over angry accusations.
To learn more about the dynamics of blended families, look for more blogs in this series. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness or a behavioral issue, contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline 24/7 at 866-846-5588 to speak with someone who would be happy to assist you.