Stepfamilies face many unique challenges, but usually succeed at adapting to their new roles. It takes patience and open communication.
Parents may need to sort out feelings about their previous partners and overcome the kind of stereotypes reinforced by Snow White movies. Children have to deal with a wide variety of losses caused by forces beyond their control.
Having a stepfamily is rarely something you plan for, but you can make it work. Try these tips for creating a happy and harmonious blended family.
Tips for Adapting as a Couple:
1. Prioritize your relationship. Your connection with each other provides the foundation for your stepfamily. Strengthening your relationship increases your chances for developing a stable and satisfying family life. Appreciate each other and schedule regular date nights.
2. Work as a team. Create a united front and share responsibilities. Make major decisions together.
3. Think positive. Children usually benefit from maintaining a close relationship with both of their biological parents. Make it easy for them to interact. Resist the urge to say anything negative about your ex-spouse.
4. Seek support. You are not alone. More than 40% of American adults have at least one step relative, according to the Pew Research Center. Connect with other stepparents you know or find a support group in your neighborhood or online.
5. Learn more. It may also help to educate yourself about issues that stepfamilies often experience. Visit your local library or browse through resources provided by organizations such as the National Stepfamily Resource Center.
6. Try counseling. If you need additional help, talk with a therapist who specializes in family relationships and blended families. Ask family and friends for referrals or call the psychology department at your local university for recommendations.
Tips for Adapting as a Family:
1. Take your time. As much as you love your partner, you’ll probably need to be patient when it comes to bonding with their children. You can still have a bright future together even if your first years are rocky. That’s especially true if your children are older or you only see them part time.
2. Acknowledge losses. Give your stepchildren room to grieve. They’ve lost their family and familiar routines. They may be coping with the aftermath of death or divorce, and they may be spending less time with their biological parents.
3. Reach out. You can encourage healing by showing an interest. Listen to your stepchild when they try to talk with you. Ask open-ended questions if they seem willing to share more information.
4. Spend time together. Block out time in your schedule for family activities and one-on-one sessions with each child in your new blended family. Have fun together and let them teach you about their hobbies.
5. Clarify rules. Are your children dividing their time between two homes with different rules? Consistency is helpful, but other arrangements can succeed if you avoid making judgments. It’s usually more effective to let the biological parent take the lead with discipline, especially when you’re just starting out.
6. Set boundaries. Affection may take time, but each family member is entitled to respect and civility. It may also help to provide personal space, so your stepchild has their own bedroom or designated areas where they can store their things and feel at home.
7. Mediate differences. Sibling rivalry is natural in any family. As much as possible, try to coach your children through settling their conflicts. Provide a positive role model.
8. Understand legal issues. Be prepared for medical emergencies and similar situations. Knowing your legal rights and responsibilities may help you to keep your blended family safe and well.
Your new family will be different from your old one, but it can still be happy and rewarding. Build healthy and supportive relationships that will help your stepfamily to thrive.