How to Be a Successful Stepfamily
Stepfamilies juggle custody schedules, blend varying values and face conflicting expectations. Becoming a stepfamily brings uncertainty to everyone, but kids may struggle with accepting a new parent figure. Seeing a parent focus on a new partner leaves some kids feeling abandoned or as if they need to compete for attention, according to the American Psychological Association 14. Your relationship with your partner and your interactions with all children involved -- your biological and stepchildren -- are key to successfully navigating the new and uncertain territory.
Build a strong relationship with your new spouse. Young children may feel left out, and adolescents are sometimes bothered by displays of affection, according to the APA, but you need a solid partnership to navigate the difficulties of creating a stepfamily. Take time away from the kids for date night to connect with your new partner.
Communicate with your spouse about the kids. Set expectations and boundaries regarding issues such as discipline and care of the children. Discuss any problems that occur right away instead of letting the frustration build. For example, talk to your spouse about your stepchild disrespecting you when it happens so you can work together to correct his behaviors. Talk to your spouse about how you want him to interact with your children if he is taking on the stepparent role. If both of you bring kids to the marriage, the relationship between the kids is another area of discussion.
Spend time with your stepchild or encourage your partner to spend time with his stepchild to learn about her. Take the child's lead when it comes to affection and the closeness of the relationship. Some stepchildren need time to adjust before opening up to a new stepparent. A stepchild may feel uncomfortable hugging a stepparent or sitting on a stepparent's lap, for example, and the stepparent should respect the child's feelings.
Discipline stepchildren gradually as you build a relationship and trust with them. Encourage your partner to do the same with your children. A stepparent taking an authoritarian role right away may create resentment, especially in older kids and adolescents, according to Robert Taibbi, licensed clinical social worker, in a Psychology Today article 2. Let your spouse handle most of the discipline initially for his children, while you handle the discipline for your biological children.
Respect your partner's ex-spouse as a part of the family dynamics, even if you have negative feelings toward him or her. Never say negative things about the ex, especially in front of the children. This creates tension for everyone involved. Ask your new spouse to extend the same respect to your ex-partner if you have one.
Find a rhythm for your new family that includes routines and traditions that work for the new family. This creates a sense of unity, according to HelpGuide.org. A routine creates a sense of security and familiarity that helps ease the transition. Traditions for holidays, birthdays and events, such as the first day of school, help establish your new family identity and make the kids feel special.
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