With all the myths and clichés about step mothers and fathers, dealing with step children can be difficult. Single parents who fall in love and decide to marry may feel that they are not building a new life together on their own; instead, each is moving into a family structure that already exists. Problems of ex-spouses, failed marriages or bereavement will have to be dealt with along with step relationships. However, in recent times there are more and more families taking this decision and enriching each others lives.
If both adults have children, the adjustment to step relationships is likely to take longer and be more complicated. When single parents find partners and choose to marry and create blended families, the transition can be hardest on the children. Step parenting advice emphasizes that whether children have lost a parent to death or divorce, accepting an adult in place of a step mother or father is difficult and requires patience on the part of the adults. Assuming that dealing with teenage step children is harder than toddlers is incorrect – each family comes with its own problems, and each child, regardless of age, has different needs or doubts.
Step Parenting Advice
- Holding unrealistic expectations of a happy family on the day after the wedding can lead to deep disappointment and fights. Usually it is wise to start off slowly, giving each family member time and space to adjust to the new step relationships.
- Children thrive in atmospheres of security and routine, and step parenting advice suggests that both parents should respect this and realize the importance of it in their adjustment process. Family routines like Sunday picnics should be maintained, and parents can talk to their own children about involving the step-siblings into these events.
- In dealing with step children, displays of affection should not be forced or dramatic. If your children usually give you goodnight kisses or hugs, refrain from asking them to do the same for your new spouse. In addition to making them feel awkward, it would seem as if they are being forced into step relationships.
- For children of step relationships, step parents are often seen as trying to replace their mother or father, and usually this doesn’t sit well with the child. Reassure your child that nobody is going to take the place of their biological parent.
- When children have lost a parent, especially to death, they can become very possessive about the belongings or memories of that parent. Explain that the child can choose to keep those belongings that mean a lot and that the memory of their parent will always be sacred and special. Going through those belongings together with your child can be an important part of letting go.
- If possible, allow children to make their own decisions when it comes to deciding what they are comfortable calling their step parent. Step relationships cannot be forced and dealing with step children is best done delicately.
- It is advisable to avoid becoming the one to lay down the rules when dealing with step children, whether younger children or teens. However, taking the child’s side as a way to gain favor will not help in the long run: children will see through it, but take advantage of the new support anyway.
- It is important for parents of blended families to teach children to respect step relationships. Setting boundaries and limits for behavior, making sure to keep all arguments or disagreements for a private moment, and using respect in your own speech are other ways to instill respect within a blended family.
- There are numerous ways to help your children and step-children to adjust to the dramatic changes in a family. The most important step parenting advice, however, is that the most basic needs of children are love, respect, attention and security, and with those in place, the rest will follow.
1. Step-Parenting and Blended Family Advice – HelpGuide
2. Becoming a Step Parent – Kids Health
3. Foundations for a Successful Step-Family – University of Michigan Health System