Advice for a New Parent or Stepparent
Blended families are becoming more and more common. Recent statistics indicate that nearly 33 percent of marriages in the U.S. form a stepfamily. In fact, each day there are 1,300 new, blended families formed. Unfortunately, blended families can be particularly stressful for both the children and the new parent, especially at first. Expectations are often unrealistic, and misunderstandings frequently occur. What should have been a happy union often quickly turns into a rocky period of adjustment.
Negative emotions often run high when a parent remarries. The children may feel depression, anger, grief, resentment, betrayal, and/or confusion. They may also perceive the new stepparent as someone who is trying to replace the parent that is no longer living in the home. Adjusting to married life can be hard enough without angry or upset stepchildren withholding their welcome.
If you are the new parent in a blended family, there are several things you can do (and avoid doing) in order to make the transition go as smoothly as possible. While you can’t control the feelings of your new stepchildren, you can respect their boundaries. Taking things slowly, and trying to understand their feelings, will go a long ways towards getting them to accept you. Following are several tips to help you develop the best possible relationship with your new children:
- Don’t rush into marriage if your partner is recently divorced. Children need plenty of time to adjust to the divorce first. Too much too fast can overwhelm them emotionally. Your best chance of success as a blended family will occur if you wait at least two years post-divorce to get married.
- Don’t expect to have a close, loving relationship with your partner’s children in a short period of time. Genuine love and affection don’t develop overnight. Allow yourself plenty of time to connect with them. If you try to rush this, you will likely alienate them.
- Accept that your stepchildren and partner may need to spend one-on-one (or group) time together that won’t include you. As the children become more accepting of your place in their lives, this time may slowly decrease. Be aware of any feelings of resentment or jealousy, and don’t let them interfere with your relationships.
- Strive to establish new traditions and special times that all of you can share. Don’t try to force them.
- Respect and accept the traditions and routines that were already in place long before you became part of the family.
- Respect and accept the relationship your children have with the parent that is no longer living in the home. Don’t try to interfere with, or influence it, regardless of your personal feelings about it. Don’t ever try to take this person’s place, or even suggest or imply that you are trying to do so. Even if the relationship is an unhealthy one in your opinion, it is not your place to try to change it. If you have concerns, discuss them with your partner and leave it up to him or her to do what he or she feels best.
- If you also have children that will be living in the new household, be extremely careful to not do anything that might be construed as playing favorites. It’s natural for you to feel more love and affection for your own children, especially early on.
- Make sure that you and your new partner come up with a mutually agreeable plan regarding discipline and other parenting issues. This can be a particularly sticky area for a new parent.
- Above all else, make sure you and your partner communicate openly, and frequently, about any issues or concerns. Everyone is adjusting to the newly blended household, and strong emotions and differing opinions are bound to surface from time to time. Don’t let them fester; instead, strive to discuss them calmly and openly, always respecting your partner’s feelings. If you can do this, you will significantly increase the likelihood that your new blended family will be together for a long, long time.
Blended families can be very successful. It won’t happen easily, but with an open heart and willingness to do whatever it takes, you can help make it happen.