Today, “blended” families are the norm. It is not uncommon for newlyweds to come into a marriage with children from previous relationships, and when they do, the new family must learn to adapt to a new living situation. If you are about to become a stepparent, there are some things that you can do to make the transition easier for yourself, and for every member of the family.
Change Takes Time
Changes are hard for everyone, and children, especially, may have a difficult time in the beginning. You can expect some initial resentment and objections to your role in their lives. It is not uncommon for children to hold on to the hope that their parents will be getting back together-your presence, in the eyes of the children, is evidence that their parents have moved on.
This is a Team Effort
Enlist the help of your spouse. It is absolutely vital that you and your spouse present a united front with the children. In the beginning, they will respond better to advice and direction from the parent that they are already comfortable with. With time, and with the support of your spouse, the children will come to accept your authority, as well.
Changes in rules are inevitable, but be sure to implement any changes gradually, especially if the rules will be stricter than the children are accustomed to. You cannot come into their lives, take away freedoms that they have come to expect, and assume that they’ll be happy about it.
If both you and your spouse are bringing children into the marriage, it is important that the same house rules apply to everyone. This will likely mean that that all of the children will experience some changes in rules, but in time, it is reasonable to expect that everyone will come to accept the new guidelines.
Discuss discipline, curfews, chore expectations and other issues pertaining to the children with your spouse. Together, decide on rules that you will both agree to implement and enforce. Talk about consequences for disobedience. Once you have worked out the details, gather the children and discuss it with them.
Acting Out and Having Fun
Be kind, but firm. Although it is natural for the children to resent the fact that their lives are in transition, do not allow them to use the situation as an excuse for bad behavior. Also, make time for fun. Give everyone the opportunity to get to know each other by planning fun family outings and activities. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage, “The family that plays together, stays together.”
Respect Their Other Parent
Never try to replace the children’s other parent. You can strive to be an additional, loving adult in their lives, but you are not their “new” Mum or Dad. Sometimes, children feel that they are being disloyal to their other parent if they like their stepparent. Let them know that you would love to be their friend, but that their parents will always be their parents.
If at all possible, enlist the help of the children’s other natural parent. It is in the best interest of the children that all of the adults interact in a civil manner and that they do what they can to see eye to eye on issues pertaining to the children’s well being. Do all that you can to assure the other parent that you respect their irreplaceable role in the child’s life.
Although everyday household decisions regarding the children can be made between you and your spouse, remember that major life choices should be made by the children’s natural parents. Feel free to give your input about these decisions to your spouse, but allow him/her to speak for both of you.
No matter what your personal feelings are, never badmouth the children’s other parent. Children have every right to love both of their parents, no matter the circumstances. Additionally, children often believe that if their parents are bad, that means that they are bad, too. Such a hurtful sentiment should never be expressed to a child.
If the children’s other parent is permanently out of the picture due to death or other circumstances, be sure to honour and respect their memory. That person played an important role in the life of the children and they will appreciate your consideration.
- Try to spend a little time giving each child one-on-one attention.
- Listen to the children and respect that their lives are undergoing an important transition.
- Try to maintain as much of the children’s existing routine as possible. It will be easier for everyone if changes are made in small steps.
- Hang in there. By consistently making yourself loving and available, even the most resistant child will learn to accept and love you.