If you are a step-parent with children in the home, you know how difficult it can be to manage relationships and adjust to the new boundaries and rules. The following ideas may help you make a successful transition during this challenging process.

  1. Have patience. Establishing new families takes time. Just because you love your new partner, it is unrealistic to think that you will automatically love his or her children. It is equally unrealistic to expect that your new partner’s children will instantly love you. It can be difficult to accept that even though you want a good relationship with your stepchildren, they may not be ready for a relationship with you.
  1. Expect to adjust. With proper help and guidance, children can recover from family disruption. All children experience a difficult adjustment period following a death, divorce, or remarriage. It takes time, patience, and perhaps some professional assistance, but most children are able to regain their emotional bearings. It is critical that the adults manage their own emotional recovery in order to help the children adjust without trauma.
  1. If you are part of a part-time stepfamily, you may need a longer adjustment period. All relationships take time to grow and develop. When stepchildren see you less often, you have less time to get to know each other. This is why it may take a part-time stepfamily longer to move through the adjustment process.
  1. Don’t expect your new family to be like your first family. If you expect that your stepfamily will be just like the family of your first marriage, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Your new family will have its own unique identity and will evolve in its own special way.
  1. Expect confusion. Forming a stepfamily is a confusing time for everyone. Think about how confusing it is for a child to become part of two new families. All of the family members—parents and children—must adjust to new roles and new boundaries.
  1. Allow time for grieving. Stepfamilies begin with an experience of loss, and everyone needs to grieve. Children have an especially difficult time resolving their grief when their parents are hostile with one another, when one or both of their parents remarry, and if they have trouble accepting their new stepparents. Children’s losses are usually different from those of their parents. Their losses include:
  • No longer having both biological parents at home.
  • Having less time with the parents due to their remarriage.
  • Losing the familiar places and routines they’ve grown up with.
  • Letting go of the fantasy of how they wanted their family to be.
  1. Acknowledge the absent parent. When one of the biological parents is absent, the children need special understanding. An absent parent, who has died or who lives elsewhere and doesn’t visit, is part of a child’s identity and life story. The child must be allowed to have all of their memories of this parent.
  1. Help the kids fit in. Children of stepfamilies live in two households. It is understandable that they have questions about how they fit in at each place. They are usually able to adjust to having two sets of rules as long as they are not asked to choose which is better.
  1. Be clear about the rules. Parents should explain their new family’s rules and what will happen if rules are broken. Rules and roles should be decided together by the parent and step-parent early on. The biological parent should do the explaining and disciplining. The stepparent may have more involvement once relationships between them and the kids have been established. All of this works best when the parents can agree to be flexible and cooperative with one another.
  1. Give the kids their own space. Make physical space available for the children who don’t live with you. Children need a sense of belonging. Creating a room or section of a room for visiting children will help them feel like part of your family.
  1. Expect them to think it’s temporary. Accept the fact that your children may expect their biological parents to reconcile. They may fantasize that your relationship with their parent is only temporary. This is especially true in the beginning. This is especially important for the parent who has moved away, since the children will inevitably keep at least a little hope alive that the parent will return.
  1. Expect resentment. No matter how good a stepparent you are, you will never be the biological parent of your stepchildren. It is natural for them to feel some resentment for you, especially when you begin setting limits for their behavior.
  1. Show the children love. Sometimes children need love the most at a time when it is the most difficult to give it to them. While bad behavior should never be rewarded, be sure to appreciate your children’s strengths even when they are behaving badly. Catch them at being good and give them praise when they are behaving well.
  1. Educate yourselves and seek emotional support. Read books about managing stepfamilies, attend classes, and participate in stepfamily support groups. Seek the help of an experienced marriage & family therapist, who has skills and training for working with families and stepfamilies, to help you through the rough spots.

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