One big happy family…NOT: Creating harmony in your stepfamily
By Christina Coduto, MS, LCPC
As if the challenges of traditional family life were not enough, those of a step or blended family are even more compounded. Stepfamilies are increasingly becoming more and more the norm in our society. It is important to acknowledge that the structure of a stepfamily is different in many ways from that of a traditional family and brings with it many unique challenges. However, if care is taken to acknowledge and work through these differences, a healthy, functional, happy stepfamily can emerge.
Parenting in a stepfamily can be very challenging. Here are some things for stepparents to consider:
It may be beneficial for biological parents to spend quality time with their children without the stepparent present. Although this may seem to counteract the cohesion of a newly blended family, this time together affords children with the security and knowledge that they are not losing their parent.
What time is your game?
In an effort to reduce resentment against both the new stepparent and new marriage relationship, it is vital that parents make the time to become even more involved in their children’s lives. So attend an event, support them and let them know you care.
All for one and one for all-
It is important that parents present a unified front to help ensure proper parenting and stability for the new family. A common response for children is to attempt to split parents, creating more conflict within the relationships. When both parents do their best to remain on the same page where the children are concerned, splitting can be minimized resulting in more effective parenting and a more cohesive family environment.
However, the challenges do not end with parenting. The new marriage relationship may find itself taking a back seat to the children. Here are some things for spouses to consider:
Remember…it’s not a choice-
What many new stepparents do not realize is that their new marriage relationship is often weaker than the relationship between their spouse and biological children. Many times stepparents try to make the biological parent choose between them and their children. However, instead of improving the situation, this only leads to conflict and resentment. The challenge for new stepparents is to resist making their spouse choose between them and the children. Biological parents are challenged by needing to make time for both relationships and showing all members of their family that there is enough love to go around.
Take it slow-
It is very important to begin establishing trust amongst your new stepfamily. Stepparents should not rush the new relationship with their stepchildren. It is important to be patient as new relationships develop and to let the children determine the pace. Being realistic about expectations will help reduce the disillusionment which is a very normal part of the process of blending a family. It will take children time to accept the changes in their lives and be able to trust their new stepparent.
Remember, you do not have to face these challenges alone. We at Stenzel Clinical Services are here to help support and guide you during these difficult times.