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Creating Healthy Relationships Between Step-Parents and Kids

Step families are usually created out of the loss of a parent or divorce. Marriage in step families differs from new marriages in that parent-child bonds predate the new marriage, new family roles and rules have to be established suddenly, there is instant parenthood, perhaps visitation rights with another biological parent, and often more financial pressures.

A step family is instant in the fact that it contains attitudes, history and roles. Do not think that the act of remarriage instantly creates a new family. Rid yourself of the notion that you can change these children any more than you can change your partner. Often we enter marriage thinking that we will change our partner, but this is not our job. Nor is it our place to think this same thought with their children. Enter the marriage knowing that these children will have to be won in respect, trust and love just as you won your new partner. These children are an extension of this person whom you are marrying.

Often the natural parent has formed close emotional bonds with the children whether it is because of a difficult divorce or having been each other’s main support before this new marriage. As a new step-parent, take time to develop an emotional connection with each child, before trying to be their parent.

Children of divorce may feel that they are betraying a biological parent by showing love to a step parent. Also when a step parent attempts to discipline this child, feelings of resentment may develop. Step-parents should realize that it takes time to prove responsibility and authority. It takes time to build trust and respect.

Your thoughts and expectations when blending families in marriage should be realistically discussed before marriage. However realize that new issues will unexpectedly surface in the marriage. Keep in mind that the children’s welfare is more important than parental demands. Children also should never have to choose sides in a remarriage.

The growing of trust and relationship between children and a new parent takes time. While the natural parent encourages respect of the new parent by keeping differences between parents away from the children, the new parent should watch for the likes and dislikes, physical comforts and emotional needs of these new children. The time that it takes to understand another’s children may be tedious and challenging and so ascertain that you talk to the natural parent to whom you are married to gain wisdom and understanding. Forcing one’s views upon the other’s child only leads to hurt and resentment not only in the child but also in the natural parent. It’s wise to not push terms such as the use of the words ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ nor is it wise to try to replace a birth parent.

For the birth parent of children, you are very much hoping that life will be easier now that there is a mom and a dad in the home. Hopefully before any remarriage, both parents and children are healed. Otherwise it is best to postpone the new marriage. However it is normal that there is tension and adjustment. The children may play out to see with whom the birth parent will align. That agreement and compromise is established between the parents is vital and that conflict, as between any marrieds, is kept away from the children.

Finding time for each other as a married couple in step-families is necessary, whether it’s a planned time or a sudden grabbed thirty minutes. There is no substitute for a strong marriage and this is what gives a child security. Remember this new marriage is likely something not chosen by the children. Similar to moving countries or a divorce, this new venture will be filled with change and unexpected events and so constant reassurance will be needed for the children.

Lastly, have real expectations and let go of ideals. Many step parents feel failures because they have “The Brady Bunch” as the goal. Rather understand that this is a less than perfect world and know that step-families are not immediately built but are built over time.

Photo by Susan NYC via Flickr


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