Getting married is a big adjustment, but add stepchildren to the mix and it can be a very stressful situation. Here are some helpful suggestions from Marilyn Frazer, author of The Relationship Trap:
1 .DON’T COME ON TOO STRONG – Don’t set your expectations too high. You have a shared history with your biological children, but not with his children. You may have won the love of your spouse, but you have to earn the love of his children. You may feel like the outsider, but be patient. It takes time to grow into your role. Don’t try to make drastic changes. Go slowly. Younger children tend to come around more quickly than teens.
2. IN THE BEGINNING, MAINTAIN AN EMOTIONALLY NON-THREATENING, DISTANT RELATIONSHIP. Take the time to learn about the children’s talent, interests, skills, and extra-curricular activities. Let them know you’re interested in them and what their interests are. Don’t expect things to be perfect. Remember, it takes a long time to blend two families.
3. BE ON THE SAME PAGE – Form a parent team. Agree on your methods, how you’re going to handle rules. You need to discuss your methods — rewards, punishments, chores, allowances, bedtimes, homework — and come to an agreement about the rules. It is important to have consistency without favoritism.
4. BUILD A STRONG, HEALTHY, CARING RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR HUSBAND. Then both of you can lead together.
5. BE CAREFUL ABOUT GIVING STEPCHILDREN AN UNHEALTHY AMOUNT OF POWER IN THE HOME. According to Focus on the Family, if the couple “cannot govern the family as a team, the household is headed for anger, jealousy, and rejection….All they have to do is cry “unfair” and their parent protects them from the ‘mean, nasty’ stepparent.”
6. WEEKLY FAMILY MEETINGS ARE A GOOD IDEA. Everyone, including the kids should have an opportunity to share how they feel, what they like and don’t like, and ask for suggestions about how to make things better.
7. DON’T BE SURPRISED TO HEAR, “You’re not my real mom.” This is your stepchild’s way of trying to take power away from your role. Best answer: “You’re right. I’m not your biological parent. I’m your stepparent, but that doesn’t mean I love or care about you less.”
8. DREAMS END. When parents divorce, children often hope they will get back together again, but when a stepparent steps in, the dream is shattered. Respect the child’s need to still love his biological mother.
9. DON’T BAD-MOUTH HIS EX. It may be tempting, but children don’t want to hear negative comments about their parents.
10. DON’T GET INVOLVED IN PARENTING DISCUSSIONS BETWEEN YOUR PARTNER AND HIS EX. Instead, talk privately with him about the parenting situation.
11. DON’T GET INVOLVED IN ARGUMENTS BETWEEN YOUR STEPCHILD AND YOUR HUSBAND. Let them work out the problem on their own. The child could resent your interference and your husband will, too. He will believe you think he can’t handle his own child. Stay out of it unless he asks for your opinion…and then be careful how you respond.
12. DON’T BE JEALOUS OF HIS STRONG PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP. Hurt feelings or problems between a stepparent and stepchild can be detrimental to the marriage.
13. DON’T CONSIDER YOURSELF A FAILURE IF YOU DO NOT WIN OVER EVERY CHILD. It takes time, trust and love. However, sometimes, no matter how long you wait, it doesn’t happen. As long as you did your best and didn’t come on too strong, accept whatever relationship you have. Some factors are beyond your control.
Marilyn Frazer, M.A.
Relationship Counseling, LLC