5 Ways to End Step- and Bio-Children Rivalry
Sibling rivalry can be a really difficult situation to diffuse in any family, and adding stepchildren to the mix can seem like a losing battle. Growing up in two vastly different stepfamilies, one with all stepbrothers and the other with a stepsister, I’ve had my share of so-called sibling rivalry, shouting matches and other sorts of what I like to call “friendly sibling sabotage” as well as sibling idolism which, for kids, is consistently taken the wrong way.
Early hellish days
The number one thing you must do if you hope to keep the peace and respect of both parties, stepchildren and biological children alike, is to not interfere if you can help it. I remember the first months after my stepsister and stepmother moved in as the most hellish days of my ten year old summer. Not only was there a heavy language barrier between my stepmother and stepsister and me, but there was also a consistent battle for space and material items.
Not only that, but since my father worked a lot and was seldom home, I was consistently being tag- teamed by the two of them. At some point, my stepmother and stepsister were yelling at me in a mixture of broken English and Spanish while I proceeded to throw my stepsister’s clothing out of the room we shared and into the hallway. Not only did this situation escalate to quarrels between my father and stepmother, but their fighting instigated even more fights between my stepsister and I as we fought for the upper hand.
What I did then
Other kids in the neighborhood as well as friends of my older brother at some point even suggested we settle our differences by way of a fist fight. It wasn’t until I realized how ridiculous the whole situation was that I proposed a deal with my stepsister: we would settle our arguments between ourselves and never again involve anyone else, especially our parents, who obviously could not handle it and almost always made the situation worse. Keep in mind that other kids might not share our sentiments. If you choose to take either child’s side in an argument, you’re potentially aggravating the situation which can cause a permanent rift in the stepchild and bio child’s relationship as not only siblings, but also as possible friends.
What would have made it better.
I can only blame my father’s lack of planning as well as both his and my stepmother’s nosiness for the reasons why this situation got so out of hand. Firstly, my father never thought out where my stepsister would sleep and as we had no extra rooms, that meant my stepsister and I would have to share. It’s not that I was opposed to sharing my things, but try and remember that if you spontaneously decide to marry someone and have them move in on a whim without giving your kids a chance to adjust, problems like this will ensue.
Please, if you can help it, do NOT make your children share rooms. That is, at least not until they have known each other for a substantial amount of time. Not only will your biological children feel disregarded, they will feel that you are giving priority treatment to the new stepchildren as well as a complete invasion of their personal space.
How things turned out.
In the future, long after my stepsister and I formed an unlikely and ironic alliance against our meddlesome parents, we would again share a room, but this time it would prove as a great bonding experience that would bring us closer than ever before. This was, of course, after we had experienced unpleasant incidents of theft, dropping lies about one another to our parents, and for my little stepsister, a stint of “copycat” syndrome in which she proceeded to dress how I dressed, wear the same costume as me on Halloween and steal my musical tastes and make up all in attempts to be more like me. Parents may find this endearing, but children never will.
Nowadays my stepsister and I are pretty close. We act as though we are actually related and my dad even legally adopted her, so now we all share the same last name. The rivalry attempts now are more of a competition for laughs rather than power and we still solve disputes without the aid of our parents.
What I think worked.
In terms of stepping in when the arguments get too heated, I am not saying that to completely stay out of this chaos is a good idea, but I am saying that if you don’t think you can be a non-bias mediator, then it might be better to let the kids fight it out themselves. If you think you’re up to it, non-bias mediation is welcome and will definitely prevent the kind of havoc my stepsister and I experienced before settling our differences. It may also encourage trust and open communication between all involved parties, which can only bring good things.
Various other steps can you take to alleviate the stressful beginnings of sibling coexistence is to assign chores or tasks to be done in pairs by one stepchild and one biological child so that they may learn to help one another and work as a team. Aside from assigning chores, organizing weekly or monthly family meetings helps to keep communication open and honest between both your bio kids and your spouse’s children. This will also cut the chances of gossip and plotting against one another in half.
Lastly, a good practice to start would be a weekly or monthly outing with the whole family. Whether that means game night, movie night or a dinner out, this will encourage camaraderie between everyone and instill unity among everyone, including you and your counterpart. The most challenging hurdles to conquer when combining two new families can be dispelling the feelings of broken families and a lack of support. Consistently doing activities as one unit creates a secure bond of support that will not only stress the importance of family and community to your children, but will ensure that they never feel alone and will go to one another for help when they are in need.
In summation, if there is a bit of rivalry happening between your bio and stepchildren, keep in mind that there is light at the end of the tunnel if you remember to never takes sides, mediate objectively and encourage unity by planning activities together. In situations like this, you should never seek to blame, but instead, seek to understand and let children problem solve amongst each other. In this way, neither your biological children nor your stepchildren will ever lose respect for you, but will look to you to set an example for how things ought to be and pave the way for positive, loving relationships.