How to Bond with Stepchildren & Deal with Stepfamily Issues
When families “blend” to create stepfamilies, things rarely progress smoothly. Some children may resist changes, while parents can become frustrated when the new family doesn’t function like their previous family. While changes to family structure require adjustment time for everyone involved, these guidelines can help blended families work out their growing pains and live together successfully.
Planning a blended family
You and your partner have decided to make a life together and form a new, blended family that includes children from one or both of your previous relationships. Congratulations. What lies ahead can be both a rewarding and a challenging experience. It can take a long time for a blended family to begin to feel comfortable and function well together.
While you as parents are likely to approach remarriage and a new blended family with great joy and expectation, your kids or your new spouse’s kids may not be nearly as excited. They’ll likely feel uncertain about the upcoming changes and how they will affect relationships with their natural parents. They’ll also be worried about living with new stepsiblings, whom they may not know well, or worse, ones they may not even like. To give yourself the best chance of success, it’s important to start planning how a blended family will function before the marriage even takes place.
Laying the foundations for a blended family
Having survived a painful divorce or separation and then managed to find a new loving relationship, the temptation can often be to rush into remarriage and a blended family without first laying solid foundations. By taking your time, you give everyone a chance to get used to each other, and used to the idea of marriage.
▪ Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.
▪ Don’t expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
▪ Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.
▪ Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and your kids won’t become angry at your new spouse for initiating changes.
▪ Don’t allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.
▪ Insist on respect. You can’t insist people like each other but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.
▪ Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.
Given the right support, kids should gradually adjust to the prospect of marriage and being part of a new family. It is your job to communicate openly, meet their needs for security, and give them plenty of time to make a successful transition.
What makes a successful blended family?
Trying to make a blended family a replica of your first family, or the ideal nuclear family, can often set family members up for confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Instead, embrace the differences and consider the basic elements that make a successful blended family:
▪Solid marriage. Without the marriage, there is no family. It’s harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don’t have couple time like most first marriages do. You’ll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.
▪Being civil. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you’re on track.
▪All relationships are respectful. This is not just referring to the kids’ behavior toward the adults. Respect should be given not just based on age, but based on the fact that you are all family members now.
▪Compassion for everyone’s development. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (teens versus toddlers, for example). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.
▪Room for growth. After a few years of being blended, hopefully the family will grow and members will choose to spend more time together and feel closer to one another.
Adapted from: RemarriageSuccess.com
Bonding with your new blended family
Early in the formation of a blended family, you as a step-parent may want to focus on developing positive relationships with your stepchildren. You will increase the chances of success by thinking about what the children need. Age, gender, and personality are not irrelevant, but all children have some basic needs and wants that should be met as a precursor to a great relationship.
The needs of children
Children want to feel:
▪ Safe and secure ▪ Loved ▪ Seen and valued ▪ Heard and emotionally connected ▪ Appreciated and encouraged ▪ Limits and boundaries