Entering a new relationship that involves children requires patience, understanding, and an ongoing commitment from all the adults involved to keep the focus on the children and their parental relationships. Unfortunately, the unresolved anger, disappointment and grief between the separated or divorced parents will often get in the way. Parents are charged with an enormous responsibility which requires them to do their own work of healing while helping their children heal and nurture his or her relationship with the other parent. It is not easy, but it can be done and my hope is these tips will offer some guidance.
1. Each child is unique
Not all children like or dislike the same thing. They also respond to situations differently. There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to helping your children adjust to becoming a blended / stepfamily.
2. Spend time with each child
Take time with each of your children and/or stepchildren. Show them you are interested in them as an individual and that their place in the family is important. Help them to feel secure and wanted in your life.
3. Assure the children that the divorce was not their fault
It is common for children to think that they were responsible for a marriage ending in divorce. This can also happen when children lose a parent through death. Be sure to have conversations with them about this, assuring them that they did nothing wrong and they had no control over the situation. Moreover, help them to see that both parents still love them and want them in their life.
4. Help children adjust – involve them in the new family
Help children to make a place for themselves in the new family. Recognize that they may have lost their place when the family blended (i.e. the baby of your family may now be the middle child in the new family or the eldest in your family may now be the second-eldest in the new family). Help them to maintain their security in the family and to recognize that participation in the new family is important.
5. Teach children to express their feelings
Understand that in allowing your children to express their feelings (good and bad) gives them the opportunity to do their work of grieving any losses they may be experiencing because of the divorce or death in their first family. Accept their feelings and encourage them to share. If you struggle with allowing your children to feel and express anger or sadness, ask yourself why you feel this way. Were you allowed, or not allowed to express yourself as a child?
6. Don’t rush children into bonding with the stepparent/stepsiblings
It takes time to establish a bond in new relationships. Do not expect your stepchildren to ‘fall in love’ with you or your children but rather work to establish respect for one another with the hopes that as time moves forward that you will feel truly connected as a family.
7. Accept and expect they will have a relationship with the non-custodial parent
Unless there is a safety issue with the child having an ongoing relationship with the non-custodial parent, recognize that any negative feelings you have about this is about YOU and not about the CHILD. Work on your feelings of negativity and keep them to yourself when it comes to helping your children or stepchildren maintain a relationship with their non-custodial parent.They have a right to maintain a relationship with their parents and as long as safety is not an issue, the custodial parent and stepparent should make every effort to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.
8. Don’t be surprised by jealousy
Children may experience jealousy when they see their biological parent spending time with the stepparent and/or stepchildren. They may feel insecure and anxious that they will be replaced by these new people. Help them to understand their feelings and assure them that they are perfectly normal.
9. Don’t leave anyone behind
When both sides bring children into the relationship it takes work and effort to balance the family. It is not unusual that one set of children may require more attention at times and then the other set of children will also need extra attention for a period of time. That’s a normal (blended) family situation. However, an imbalance that goes on indefinitely could be a cause of resentment and frustration between the blended siblings. This requires ongoing understanding by the adults and an open family system whereby the children can express their feelings without fear of reprisal or being dismissed.
10. Enjoy the relationship you have
It takes time to develop a relationship. The relationship you have as a couple will evolve and develop through the years. This is the same with stepchildren… your relationship will evolve over a number of years. Enjoy it today, for what it is … if it needs improvement then work on it. If it is developing slowly… simply enjoy it for where it is at and continue to nurture it.