The family unit has undergone so many structural changes over the years. The traditional mother/father/children household structure has transitioned, for many, to include stepparents and stepchildren.
For those who have undergone the ritual of blending a family, you know all-too-well, the importance of preparing the home team for the new teammates. If you’re successful you will meet with minimal to no resistance but if you are like the majority you should expect to hit a few bumps along the way.
The process of blending a family can be a challenging one not only for the adults but also for the children involved. It may not be easy for someone to transplant their old habits into a new habitat or readily adapt to new living arrangements for many reasons.
In their own right, the combined matriarch and patriarch of the new household will experience their own challenges. They will have to learn to manage the different emotions that present from each individual involved, including themselves.
They must adjust to each other’s differences that weren’t prominent in the separate living stage of the relationship.
They each may have different parenting styles and may fall on different sides of the spectrum where discipline is concerned. Those two issues alone are enough to tear down a marriage if it is not addressed immediately and properly.
Balance is everything.
Both parents (because a step parent is a parent) should be on mutual ground in the decision-making process when it comes to raising the children, if the plan is to do it effectively.
One very damaging habit biological parents have is wanting a step parent to be an active caregiver but then disagree with every decision they make because he/she is not the (biological) parent.
It’s confusing. It’s sets a tone that minimal respect is necessary from the children and it’s a marriage killer. If you marry someone you should have done all the necessary research to feel certain that person has the best interests for the family. If you have to second guess that then maybe YOU made the wrong decision. Message.
If all is good then your priority should be to formulate a parenting plan that you can both agree to and, for those occasions where there may be a difference of opinion, keep it between the two of you.
In addition to forming a cultivating relationship with each other, bonding with the children is also very important. Step parents should place emphasis on gaining the trust of their stepchildren but also need to construct boundaries that will balance that trust with expectations.
Creating an open line of communication early on is the best ally you can have. Remember, they are just children but they have a lot of personality and opinion. Allow them to share it!
In the face of change, children may have the most difficulty adjusting and accepting the new arrangements. Children who have been at the center of a breakup or divorce are more emotionally prone to resist the new norm and will require time and patience to help them come into full understanding and acceptance.
During the process children’s emotions may come on faster than you can blink.
Here’s some jealousy?
With a side order of sibling rivalry.
And that’s the fun stuff compared to the fears.
Fear that the biological parent will love the new additions more than them.
Fear that having a step parent means they cannot love the other biological parent.
Fear that the biological parent who does not live in the home will be hurt or angry if they like or even love the step parent.
Teamwork makes the dream work!
Help your child get over those fears. Reassure them that 1) their parents will always be their parents, 2) their parents will always love them no matter what and 3) its ok to get along with the step parent. If both biological parents, along with the step parent, can be on board with calming a child’s fears, you’re already at the success finish line.
The pink elephant in the room.
There may be resistance from the biological parent who does not live in the home regarding the new arrangements. This may be the biggest factor in the success of acclimation into a new life and, sadly, this makes the children’s acceptance of the situation that much more difficult.
Biological parents who do not live in the home and who harbor bitter feelings over a break up, divorce or an irrational fear that the new parent will “steal” their child away from them have the ability to create unnecessary additional stress for the live-in parents and emotional distress in the children.
They may hold on to this false belief that it is better for children to grow up in an unhappy dysfunctional home with biological parents instead of a rational functional home setting with a blended family.
Unfortunately, not all originals work best.
A child who lives in a home filled with anger, animosity, hate and, in some instances, violence and fear is not an emotionally healthy one. Teaching your child to be angry and fear the moment both parents are in the same room is a horrible trait to pass on.
Fighting against a biological parents new relationship, especially when there is no danger or inappropriate behavior towards the child, is not in the best interest of the children and can be very damaging to a childs emotional state.
If all else fails.
If your differences can not be worked out and, the child’s best interest are truly on the table, it may be time to call in the help of a professional.