Accepting the changes in everyone’s lives takes time
By Barbara Pierce
When your remarriage or live-in arrangement includes children from previous relationships, blending families takes adjustment. It’s complicated. The joining of two families, different parenting styles and new family routines will be a huge challenge.
Suggestions from social worker Richard Petty of Catholic Charities in, Onedia & Madison counties, and other experts to guide in forming a new family unit which includes children from previous relationships.
It’s important to develop a climate of trust that allows the children to express any concerns or emotions they are experiencing, said Petty. A cornerstone of communication is listening to them and validating their concerns and emotions.
Discuss everything. Uncertainty and concern about family issues comes from poor communication, so talk as much as possible. Children may have questions about the legal status of the custody arrangements, he added. Also, some children have fantasies about their birth parents being reunited. Accepting this fantasy is important, while you also offer realistic and age-suitable information about the decisions you’re making as parents.
Sometimes it’s easier to communicate when you’re doing things together as a family – games, sports and activities. And, doing things together as a family will create bonds that help you all begin to identify as a family.
Don’t expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind to help children adjust to a blended family is that the children didn’t pick this. Be sensitive to the fact they didn’t ask for their lives to be turned upside down.
While you as parents are likely to be happy and excited about living together, your kids or your new partner’s kids may not be nearly as excited. They’ll feel uncertain about the upcoming changes, worry about living with new stepsiblings, whom they may not know, or may not even like.
Kids of different ages and genders tend to adjust differently to a blended family. The physical and emotional needs of a 2-year-old girl are, of course, very different than those of a 13-year-old boy. But don’t mistake differences in development and age for differences in fundamental needs. Just because a teenager may take a long time to accept your love and affection doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want it.
Let your stepchild set the pace. Every child is different and will show you how slow or fast to go as you get to know them. Given enough time, patience, and interest, most children will eventually give you a chance.
Remember that you’re not their mother, and you never will be. They’re conflicted enough and pushing them to call you mom will only confuse them more.
Don’t try to take the place of your partner’s ex. Depending on the circumstances, the other parent might not be in the child’s life, but this doesn’t give you permission to slip into the role of “mom.” The child has a mom and it is not you. The child has the right to love their mom or memories of their mom while still having a close relationship with you as a step parent.
Neither of you should ever bad-mouth the ex. Studies show that one of the primarily reasons kids have problems after a breakup is that parents don’t keep their negative feelings about their ex to themselves. That ex is your child’s parent; he needs to have positive feelings about that parent.
No matter how much you disagree with your ex, or how angry you get it’s important to never bad mouth a parent to the children.
“Amicable interaction between former partners may be difficult, yet it’s beneficial for the children and everyone involved,” said Petty.
Disciplining or criticizing your stepchildren is best viewed as the domain of the biological parent, Petty continued.
Keep your cool, walk away and wait to speak to your partner about what happened and let the parent impose the punishment. This doesn’t mean you should let your step-children abuse you and take advantage. Instead, it’s important to remember your role is different than it would be with your own children.
Some families find that family counseling helps the transition. It can be an effective way for a blended family to work through issues each individual member wants to bring to the table. Catholic Charities offers such counseling. Call 315-724-2158 or see www.catholiccharitiesom.org/.
Most step parents genuinely grow to feel affection for the kids in their care and the kids usually learn to accept and return the affection, said therapist Judy Osborne, director of the Stepfamily Association, online.
It usually takes between two and five years for a blended family to establish itself. Change isn’t going to happen quickly and it will take a long time before everyone gets used to their new role. But have hope. It will happen.