Step-parents and their role in family traditions can be a bumpy road to travel

The New West
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Traditions of family gatherings can help children to establish deep roots and an appreciation of familial connections. Whether it is family dinner and games one night a week or a huge family event that brings together relatives from various places to celebrate, traditions matter.

According to Mother Duck, children who have grown up with these recurring events have a greater sense of belonging and a connection to the values and beliefs of the family. That consistency anchors them and provides lifelong memories.

Unfortunately, sometimes things upset the tradition, which can make everyone uncomfortable. The reasons can include a new person who doesn’t know how the event flows, alcohol/drugs, or even a venue closing down.

One Redditor recently wrote in regarding a disagreement she and her fiance were having regarding a traditional family gathering:

Her family has a large, one-week, family-only gathering at her family’s place each year. Though they have been together for four years, this is the first time he was invited because they are now engaged.

“Sarah”, has two sons, 9 and 12. She has them at her home every other week according to the custody agreement. Sarah does not mention “Jack” having any children.

During this one special week each year, bedtimes are not enforced so that the kids can join in on all of the activities. Though it had never been a problem in the past, Jack began making a big deal about how the gathering was going to ruin the kid’s schedule.

She wrote in after the first three nights of Jack causing a disturbance. Although he had been clearly told about the rules, he began showing passive-aggressive signs of discomfort and distress that they were still swimming at 10 p.m.

The next night the snarky remarks came in, with him reminding her kids that it was past their bedtime. On the third night, he added sighs to the clear signs of his disapproval. Throughout it all, there were “awkward silences and judgemental glances” directed at Sarah from her family.

Each night, he has privately insisted he only has the boy’s best interest at heart. However, Sarah has her doubts. She told him to leave if he couldn’t rein it in. He resorted to name-calling and turning it around to say that she was making him out to be the bad person for trying to protect the kids. She called him an embarrassment, which does not bode well for him in the future.

In her explanation of why she might be in the wrong, she states he’s not like this at home and that she believes he wants what is best for the kids. No matter the reason, she is certain that she’s not okay with his micromanagement.

Reddit responses on fire

While Sarah stated that she’s never seen this side of him, Redditors were quick to point out that four years into the relationship there have probably been other clues that he was so controlling.

Several mentioned that this type of behavior would only worsen if they get married. Some people shared memories of abusive step-parents and how their own parent was either oblivious or unhelpful.

As the conversation continued, people asked whether he really understood what his role as step-parent would be. It seems, they pondered, that he viewed time without the kids as the norm, and an inconvenience to be tolerated when they were around. Staying up past bedtime would have infringed on his adult time without having to think about youth.

After further contemplation, Sarah began to see things in a new light. Aside from her defense that he usually pulls her to the side when he has a problem with something, she was clearly putting the pieces together that she’s in an abusive relationship.

He has told her how to dress around her children and when they should have access to snacks including beverages. Undoubtedly she will begin to see more signs now that the floodgates have been thrown open. That was the last post from her.

It is nice for people to get support on Reddit, or be called out too if necessary. In Sarah’s regard, people helped her to see that Jack was gaslighting her. But it’s always good to check in with professionals in the field.

What do the experts say?

Further, in the Mother Duck article mentioned earlier, they provide a few tips to ensure the best experience possible for family traditions:

  • Simplicity - their family gatherings fit the bill here according to the article. Keeping it simple, such as gathering at the same family property rather than traveling to exotic locations, is one way they keep it simple. The other regards frequency, which they don’t overdo since it is only one special week out of each year.
  • Flexibility - It’s important to be open to change, such as adding a new event to the gathering, or evolving certain games as children grow. Changing bedtime for a few nights would fall under this category as well.
  • Value Rich - Make sure that the traditions match what is valuable to the family. Their gathering at a family home just for family members indicates that this group values family. Others might prefer travel or local events.

The previous tips will help ensure that family gatherings are maximized for the joy of everyone, including the kids. Just as there are good things, what follows are some problems that can happen when a non-parent is on the scene.

The professionals at Orlando Thrive Therapy have provided a guide to the five worst things that step-parents can do. These are:

  • Telling natural parent how to parent
  • Discouraging communication between parent and child
  • Minimizing the importance of step-children
  • Negative or critical comments of the child(ren)
  • Trying to take over/control/correct how discipline is enforced

Jack clearly engages in all of these to some extent. These are the reasons many on the forum suggested she run, not walk, away from him.

What do you think?

Was Jack looking out for the best interest of the kids or himself? If Sarah were your friend, what would you like to see her do?

Perhaps you have been in a similar situation. If so, what happened?

Please, leave any thoughts you have in the comment section below.

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