3 Steps to Successful Step Parenting
by Christine Holding, LMFT
The other day a discouraged couple shared in their session,“We are discouraged, it seems we can’t do anything right when it comes to helping our children adjust to our marriage.” This couple is realizing that blending two families together is much more challenging than expected. If you are facing similar difficulties, here are three steps parents and step-parents can take to make the transition to a new blended family a little smoother:
Step 1: Slow Down. Forming new attachments takes time. Try not to get discouraged if happily ever after doesn’t happen immediately. Love grows slowly over time so expect some rejection initially and try to keep sense of humor. Researchers point out that “Themes of rejection and abandonment are common for children of divorced parents and also common among stepparents. In the early stages of a developing a stepfamily, stepparents are the “outsiders” both historically and emotionally (The Emotionally Focused Therapy Casebook by Susan Johnson and Brent Bradley, p 282).” Be patient. It can take several years for new family roots to take told and grow.
Step 2: Work As A Team. Whenever possible, let the child’s biological parent do the disciplining and set the boundaries. A step-parent’s role can be that of a mentor, a friend, and a role model. Work together with your new spouse to decide house rules that work for everyone and to create structure in the home; this will help you maintain a united front. Check in with the family regularly to hear concerns and validate that figuring out a new way for the family to be together is up to everyone. Everyone plays a part and has a voice in the new family.
Step 3: Strengthen Your Marriage. Finally, remember why you are doing this work. One of the major mistakes made by many couples with stepchildren is to focus on the distress in the forming of a new family and as a result, the couple relationship if sometimes forgotten. Nurturing the marriage often helps smooth out parenting challenges. Over time, your love and commitment to each other will motivate children to accept newly established structures. Keep your love alive and healthy, date regularly, and express your affection for each other in the presence of the children.
With time these few simple steps can create more realistic expectations for blended families. For additional suggestions for stepparents, I recommend Step Parenting: Everything You Need to Know to Make It Work by Jeanette Lofas and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Susan Johnson.