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What do Cinderella, Snow White and the twins in The Parent Trap all have in common?  An evil stepmother, of course!

Cultural myths about evil stepmothers are much more common than cultural myths about evil stepfathers.  But stepfathers are also often portrayed negatively.  This can make it difficult for children to think happy thoughts about the adults who enter their lives as stepparents.  Why, then, might it be tough for stepchildren to lose touch with stepparents?

Chosen family

In blended families, children must form relationships with adults with whom they are required to share their most significant attachment figure.  Obviously, if children and their stepparents don’t get along, and their parent’s new relationship fails, the children may be quite happy with that outcome.

However, if the children and the stepparent successfully negotiate this very complex ground and form a loving bond, the attachment can be very strong.  They will have become chosen family to each other.

The value of stepparents

Despite pop culture myths, stepparents can be forces for good in children’s lives.  If a stepparent lives with a child’s primary carer, a child may spend more time with their stepparent than they do with their biological parent.  A stepparent may be a better role model than an absent parent.  And a stepparent may also have their own children, bringing together children who form bonds independent of their parents’ relationship.

Children then run the risk of losing those relationships if the stepparent’s union with the biological parent fails.  As the divorce rate for second and subsequent marriages is higher than for first marriages, this is not an unlikely outcome.

A child who has a stepparent is a child who has lost something – specifically, the relationship between their biological parents, most often due to divorce, death or desertion.  A loving relationship with a stepparent can help to heal that child’s loss.  The subsequent loss of the loved stepparent would therefore compound the loss.

Respecting the relationships

The unfortunate reality of the divorce rate is that a blended family unit is not guaranteed.  Children have no control over whether their biological and stepparent’s relationship will last.  Therefore, it is important that parents consider the impact of the breakdown of a marital or de facto relationship on children’s relationships with all significant adults in their lives, including stepparents.

If it is in the children’s best interests for a relationship with a stepparent to be maintained, engaging with family law practitioners to protect those relationships may be appropriate.

Lynn and Brown Lawyers encourage anyone with questions about children’s rights and making post-separation arrangements that are in the best interests of the children to get in touch with one of our experienced family lawyers. You can contact us through our website www.lynnandbrown.com.au or by calling 08 9375 3411.

About the author:  This article has been authored by Alison Churchill, a career-change family lawyer at Lynn & Brown Lawyers.  Alison’s experience includes working with extended family members with care of children after relationship breakdowns.

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