10 Of The Most Important Tips For Becoming A Step Parent
I became part of what we now call a “blended family” or step-family long before there was a term for such things. I really didn’t know how to explain my new family dynamic to my friends. It was usually a long elaborate run on version of:
“He is my dad now, but not really, he is not my REAL dad. My REAL dad died, and my mom just married this other guy." Or, “He is my brother, but not my REAL brother, my mom married his DAD.”
I found myself putting my own children in the same position years later after I’d fallen in love again and wanted to blend our families. At least we had a proper term and title by that time; however, there still wasn’t much in the way of help and support on how to actually go about the blending of families in a way that truly supported everyone, even the kids.
This was important to me because I knew what it was like to be a kid caught up in a relationship that was not my choice… Because I loved and NEEDED my mom, I essentially I had to go along for the ride and felt somehow that I was also supposed to like it. I didn’t, and neither did my kids!
I have personally lived on both sides of this experience; so needless to say, I have some important tips when it comes to becoming a step parent and creating a blended family.
Read On For 10 Of The Most Important Tips For Becoming A Step Parent
- Your kids are not in love with this new person like you are. They are going along for the ride because of the need and love they have for their biological parent. They did not sign up for this. And typically the older they are, the more resistant they become.This represents a massive change in their life, and truth be told, they have a love and fondness for their OTHER biological parent, not this stranger.
In my case, my father had died 10 years earlier. There was no option for me to hope things would go back to the way they were…but remember that most kids long for things to be the way they used to be with both biological parents getting back together.
Don’t be surprised when you are faced with resistance; it will change with time as the relationship grows and flourishes. In the beginning, expect and plan for what I call “Transitional Anxiety.” Although everyone feels it, unfortunately, kids usually suffer with it the most.
Every family has a “Family System.” A Family System is the way a family interacts with each other, ie: how problems are solved, what issues are talked about and not talked about, and what behavior is okay and not okay.
As straightforward as it may appear, family systems are very unique and important to each and every family. We are usually not aware of our own system until it is challenged.
In the first year of Tom and I blending our children (we have 8 between the two of us), our family systems collided when our sons (one biological son from each of us) had a huge blowout fight! All at once Tom and I noticed huge differences in our family systems even though we had prided ourselves on how aligned and unified we were in our principles for parenting. You can read more about what happened and how we handled it in this post.
It is this simple oversight that rocks step-families, especially in the beginning. And if such collisions are not handled well, the negative consequences last for many years to come.
The immersion of different family systems needs to be expected, intentionally looked for, and honored. I encourage both families to realize no one family system is right or wrong. Provide room for both to co-exist, and this space will naturally evolve into a family system which serves everyone.
Be kind and patient through the challenges of blending families. You will need to rely on each other as you navigate this new territory. It is going to take time.
On average it can take up to 5 years before everyone feels integrated into this new family experience. So, take a breath, and take it one day at a time.
Allow the children to voice their feelings about their experiences. They have their own set of fears and concerns as well. The relationship they are going to have with a step parent is going to grow over time, and is different from the relationship you have with your partner.
Avoid complaining to your partner about any given situation. Be vigilant about articulating your needs or wishes and clearly explain how those needs can bet met. Do you need him/her to be more involved in your child’s day-to-day life? Do you need ideas as to how to connect more with his/her child? Don’t expect your partner to read your mind! If you need help with becoming more comfortable with asking for what you want, check out this post.
Support your partner’s relationship with his/her child. The worst thing you can do is expect that he or she chooses between you and the child. There is room for EVERYONE in this arrangement. Sure, it may challenge you as you begin to expand your own capacity to love; however, know that this expansion will ultimately provide you the experience you are seeking, which is family unity and connection.
Respect and encourage your partner to nurture their relationship with their child and be sure to do the same with your own. This is actually one of the best ways to ensure that step-siblings get along with each other as it allows the child to begin to build trust and respect for this new person in their life. Acknowledging the “original family” helps children realize that they are still important, still special and that they aren’t lost in the new and bigger family. Make it a priority to spend time alone with your own child and encourage your partner to do the same.
Create time together as a family. It is equally important to plan family activities with the entire family.
Every Sunday for the first two years of our union, Tom and I gathered our family together for “Sunday Dinner.” This gave us a consistent time and place for all of us to gather together and build relationships between us. Now, we have Sunday Dinner monthly.
Discuss your parenting styles and discipline styles and come up with a set of “basic house rules” for both families. Together, communicate these to the kids. When it comes to discipline, each biological parent needs to maintain the responsibility for disciplining their own child. This is especially important in the beginning.
Marriage or union does not give a step parent the rights of parenthood. Becoming a step-parent to a child is earned, along with the right to discipline. You earn this privilege by developing a relationship of trust, connection, and mutual respect between you and the child.
What are you supposed to do when you have a step child misbehaving?
If you identify something that is troubling you with a step-child, take it to your partner and have an open and honest discussion about your concerns. Provide suggestions from your vantage point, and then allow the biological parent to implement the agreed upon actions. Trust and know that the biological parent knows what is ultimately best for the child, even if you as the step-parent disagree.
Keep any disagreement about discipline strategies away from the kids. This is a topic better discussed privately. Your goal should be to come up with a set of “family rules” that all of the kids need to adhere to and then to be aware of and respectful of each other’s rules for their own children. It is okay if there are differences.
Our Big blended family:
I am not going to lie, creating a blended family takes effort, patience, and a whole lot of love. If you think about it though, the same can be said for any family one desires to create, biological or otherwise.
When it comes to creating family, my mind fondly drifts back in time and remembers this quote from Mrs. Doubtfire:
“There are all sorts of different families,
Some families have one mommy,
some families have one daddy,
or even two families blended together.
Some children live with their uncle or aunt.
Some live with their grandparents,
and some children live with foster parents.
But if there's love, dear,
those are the ties that bind.
And you'll have a family in your heart forever.”
-Movie, 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire
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