When you meet and fall in love with a new partner after a divorce or breakup, blending your families may be the last thing on your mind. After all, you are enjoying the emotional high of a new romance. You are thrilled to have found someone else to love and spend your life with. You may be so excited to get married or move in together that you assume things will fall together smoothly with your kids.
Unfortunately, of course, the children don’t always feel the same way. Having to adjust to a new step-parent and new step-siblings is a big thing. The dynamics and expectations can differ greatly from those of an intact biological family unit.
With patience, love, and thoughtfulness, though, you can overcome these challenges.
Don’t Rush It
A new step-parent often wants to put on their best face and hopes to win over their partner’s children immediately. But rushing the process of bonding with your new step-kids can backfire. Children may feel like you’re trying too hard and brush you off. They may resent you because they now have less time with their parent (since you are now getting their attention and affection as well).
Let’s face it: getting a new roommate(s) that you didn’t choose is rarely fun. Children will need time to adjust at their own pace. It’s unrealistic to expect that they’ll be crazy about you and your kids at first.
It can be frustrating when your kids or your partner’s kids are disrespectful and rude toward you or each other. You want them to be kind and get along.
But living in a blended family is a unique challenge. As a grownup, you can set the tone by being patient and respectful even when the kids are not. They want to know that they can trust you to be stable and predictable. If they see they can rattle you and cause you to lose your temper, your chances of them respecting you lessen.
So respect them and their needs for alone time, time with their other parent, or time away from their step-siblings. This does not mean you have to let them get away with everything, of course. See the next tip for more on that.
Leave the Disciplining to the Biological Parent
Step-parents often have a bad reputation, whether earned or not. Some of this happens when a step-parent takes on too much responsibility for disciplining their partner’s children. For example, a new step-dad may think that the kids should automatically respect his authority and toe the line. When they do not, they may become angry, punitive, and distant. This only sets the stage for future difficulties.
It is best to leave discipline up to the children’s biological parent for quite some time in the beginning. Your step-kids do not want to feel you are trying to take the place of their other parent. They don’t want you to try to replace the missing parent. Practice patience and discretion.
Children are keenly aware of when it seems like another kid in the family is getting preferential treatment. It only takes the slightest difference for them to accuse parents of this, even in a non-blended family.
It’s absolutely vital to keep this in mind in your blended family. Of course, it is often easier to get along with the kids who are more outgoing or more accepting of you. It can be hard to treat everyone the same when one step-kid likes you, and your child seems to despise you. But as an adult, you need to act with fairness and equality.
All blended families experience challenges and struggles. With time, though, these usually lessen. If your blended family is struggling, please reach out to us. Therapy can be a very helpful part of family cohesion and peace.