As a result of a skyrocketing divorce rate and many individuals delaying marriage well into their thirties, step parenting is becoming increasingly common. 50% of first marriages fail. The number is even higher in second marriages. Initially, a new marriage may seem very romantic; “I love you and of course I love your children”. However, it is not always that easy. Taking care of someone else’s biological children and blending families can often be difficult, frustrating, anger provoking and thankless. With time and an enormous amount of effort and teamwork, it can be an exciting, loving and very rewarding experience. While volumes can and have been be written on this subject, some basic guidelines may be helpful.
1. It is very important to remember that the children already have two parents. Let the biological parents set the rules and do the disciplining. This is especially important during the first few years as you build a relationship with the children.
2. Earn their respect. Try to establish yourself as the child’s adult friend. Treat the child with respect and expect to be treated in the same way. You and your spouse or live-in partner must cooperate in order for this to happen.
3. Be realistic about your feelings. Remember that while you and your spouse/partner love each other and have chosen to live together, the children may have very different opinions. Not only may they not love you, they may not even like you. And, you may not like them.
4. Work to maintain open communication. You need to know what your spouse/partner expects of the children. You also need to understand what you expect from each other. You may need to enforce the rules in his/her absence. Regular family meetings can help everyone air their feelings and develop problem solving skills.
5. Never undermine the children’s relationship with the parent who is not in your home. This is a sure way to lose the children’s respect.
6. Know what you are getting yourself into. If you can’t stand his/her children or will resent that your spouse will have to pay alimony or child support, don’t get married! It is not fair to any of you.
7. Don’t rush to add a new baby into the mix. Many couples hurry to have a child that is theirs together, thinking it will solidify the family bond. Having a new baby in the house too soon generally just complicates things. The older children who have already experienced loss of their original family may feel even less important as everyone makes a fuss over infant.
8. Be patient. Relationships take time to develop. One of the biggest mistakes step parents make is trying to become the child’s new parent. While some children may welcome this, most do not. You are the adult. You must remember that the children may not be certain your marriage will last. After all, their parent’s first marriage ended in divorce. So, they probably will (and should) be emotionally cautious. If you can stand the test of time, earn their respect and listen to their needs you will be rewarded with a wonderful gift…a child’s love.
9. Try to spend private time with your step child (children) doing something he/she enjoys.
10. Over time and with input from the children, establish new family traditions.
Following these principles can really help in the step- parenting process. Try to look at issues as problems to be solved. If you are feeling overwhelmed, frustrated or angry it is helpful to seek the advice of a family therapist. You and your new spouse may have very different ideas about child rearing. And you may both be tempted to be extra nice to your own kids out of feelings of guilt. You and your spouse will need to work hard to find ways to parent in a blended family. Kids are super sensitive to inequalities and are likely to let you know it in no uncertain terms! Remember, it is the parent’s (not the children’s) inability to solve problems that causes marriages to fall apart. But it is also the parents’ ability to work together that leads to happy and successful families. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Blending families can be tricky. Psychologists and other mental health specialists with experience in working with step families can help you learn to successfully solve problems related to blended families.