Loyalty conflict is a foreign term to a nuclear family. But for stepfamilies, it can be an unfortunate reality, resulting in crippling emotions for stepchildren and unseen barriers toward relationship building with stepparents.
Loyalty conflict occurs when a stepchild experiences conflicting feelings between his biological parent and his stepparent. It can also occur when a child feels emotionally torn between two biological parents and is forced to take sides.
Children naturally have strong loyalties toward their biological parents. As they build a relationship with a stepparent, they may experience guilt and confusion because they worry about the impact on their non-residential biological parent. When stepchildren struggle with conflicting emotions, they will remain loyal to their biological parent, shutting out their stepparent and any emotional ties to him/her.
If a stepparent tries to compete with the biological parent or win the child over, the loyalty conflict will increase. The stepchild may feel that enjoying a relationship with his stepparent is hurtful to his biological parent. These feelings are compounded when an insecure biological parent discourages a relationship with the stepparent.
In order to help combat these feelings for stepchildren, stepparents must never criticize the biological parent or appear in competition with them. The stepchildren should be allowed continued contact and communication with the other biological parent without a threat of anyone hindering that relationship.
In time, stepchildren learn it’s okay to love a stepparent in addition to their biological parent. It takes longer in homes where the step-relationship is discouraged by the other parent but the stepparent has no control over that. Once again, stepparents will find that time and patience are on their side.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9