Marrying or dating someone with a child from a previous relationship can be an exciting and challenging experience. Patience, understanding and open communication can help make the transition smoother for everyone.
Here are a few things to remember:
• Understanding Your Role
• Laying the Foundation
• Agreeing on Your Boundaries
• Step-parenting Tips
• Support Resources
Understanding Your Role
Stepparents and their spouses often start out with basic assumptions about the stepparent/stepchild relationship. Those assumptions often get tested, and it can be difficult for stepparents to find a comfortable place in the family. Childhood-development experts and family counselors emphasize that stepparents should follow certain guidelines to ensure more successful blended-family relationships.
• A stepparent cannot replace a biological parent. You cannot force your new stepchild to love and accept you as his or her mother or father. Instead, aim toward playing a positive, major role in the child’s life as a loving guide, mentor and adult role model.
• Stepfamilies are different from natural families. The dynamics and relationships, by nature, are unique. This does not mean that your family cannot be happy and functional.
• Stepfamilies take time to adjust. It may take longer than you expect for the child to accept you and adapt to the loss of his or her previous family structure.
Laying the Foundation
The best way to assimilate into your new family is to know what you are getting into beforehand. Experts recommend that you sit down with your future spouse and discuss your new role. Stepchildren (and their parents) get along better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Agreeing on Your Boundaries
Knowing everyone’s roles and limits is an important first step when joining a family. Come to a consensus on vital issues such as how to:
• Set and enforce rules and limits;
• Resolve conflicts and arguments; and
• Express love and affection.
Next, have a family meeting to discuss the issues together. Rather than a one-sided lecture, make it a healthy dialogue that encourages the child to ask questions. Always try to remain positive and enthusiastic.
Once you have agreed on these ground rules, try to carry them out faithfully. Although it may not be easy, it is often important to discuss these issues with the child’s other biological parent.
There is no perfect way to stepparent, and every successful blended family has its own unique approach. Consider these suggestions:
• Allow your stepchild to get to know you gradually. Do not come on too strong. Try to learn about child’s hobbies, talents and after-school activities.
• Let your spouse make the major parenting decisions. When it comes to making important school choices and health decisions, leave these matters to the person who knows your stepchild best:
• Be fair and consistent with every child. If you have more than one stepchild or if you have brought your own biological children into your blended family, try to show an equal amount of love, attention and fairness to each child.
• Encourage your stepchild to share his or her feelings. Show that you respect his or her emotions by letting him or her talk honestly about his or her feelings for you and his or her biological parents.
• Expect the unexpected. Your stepchild’s emotions may run the gamut, and his or her feelings for you may change at any time. Sometimes it is best just to ride out the storm without being judgmental.
• Remember you are only human. You are going to make mistakes sometimes. Aim to learn from these missteps. When you have done something wrong, set a positive example by apologizing. Do not be afraid to get help and talk to someone about how you are feeling.
Hope this helps,
• The Stepfamily Network: http://stepfamily.ning.com