Blended family life is no fairy tale

Blended families are not usually mentioned positively in the fairy tales of our childhood. Who would have thought that fairy tales could have such a big influence on us after we became adults.  Thanks to scary tales about unkind step mothers who made the lives of their step kids miserable, step parenting has a very sketchy reputation. This, despite the fact that society is changing the way it looks at divorce, remarriage, and the blended family. As a result of these conflicting expectations of step parents, friends and family offer an approving nod to those of us who are willing to raise a child who is not ours, but their support is conditional. As step parents, we must constantly prove we are not unkind, unloving, nor vindictive or jealous. Proving a negative is difficult, to say the least, and no one knows that better than a step mother.

Take the lead from your partner- the biological parent

At least at first, before you both have established yourselves as caring, fair, and fully participating parents in your blended family, stand back from correcting or disciplining your step kids. Your direct input will almost certainly be unappreciated, and may give the kids an excuse to rebel against your very presence in the blended family home. When the biological parent takes the lead, new or difficult rules may be accepted more easily, and you are less likely to be blamed for them. Notice how your partner presents new ideas, manages behavior, and encourages compliance with his or her kids. If the method is working well, you can adopt it; if not, you and your partner can discuss measures to improve this kind of communication.

Helpful tips for step parents

  • Be patient and do not expect too much too soon. Love and relationships ordinarily develop over a period of time.  It is okay if you do not fall immediately in love with your step kids, or if they do not like you right away.
  • Step parenting, at least at the beginning when you first merge your two families into one blended family, is best done from a respectful distance. Let the biological parent take the disciplinary lead.
  • Keep your marriage healthy. For blended or step families, the most important factor is a strong bond between husband and wife.  Your stable marriage is vital to the security of your blended family.
  • Avoid competing with the ex-spouse of your partner, and do not try to take over their parenting role. Also, encourage your spouse to be an involved parent with his or her non-custodial kids; this means keeping the lines of communication open between partner and ex-spouse.
  • Respect the differences in your family histories and rituals.  Discuss which customs and rituals your blended family will continue, which you wish to let go, and which new family rituals you would like to create.
  • Be aware of potential money problems. Money pressures are usually greater for step families, and your best approach toward money management is clear and honest communication. Also helpful is compassion and understanding.
  • Be sensitive to sexual matters. Especially in the early months of your marriage, be aware that overt displays of affection make some step family kids extremely uncomfortable. Take care that everyone has the privacy they require.
  • Do not be surprised if your step kids, or your own bio kids, express anger toward you. Children often carry hurt and frustration long after the breakup of their parents and the remarriage of one or both of them. Their feelings are typically expressed as anger, and often directly toward their step parent.  Try to understand the anger, and realize that expressing feelings is healthier than keeping them bottled up inside.

There is help available for your step family

No one is saying that building a blended family is simple; it takes compassion, patience and hard work. You can glean helpful information from blended family websites like this one, read books like Blended Family Advice, join a support group, and look for help wherever you can. Try to establish your blended family home as a place your kids can feel the accepted and appreciated, where they can count on stable parenting and clear direction in a life full of contradiction and upheaval. Step parenting and parenting in a blended family is hard; no question about it, but it can change a child’s personal history of a broken home to a wholesome and supportive blended family history. If you need more help, then contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.