Important Things to Remember About Stepfamilies

What is a Stepfamily

If you are already in a stepfamily you have known from the start that your family is different. Maybe you could not put your finger on exactly how but you knew that things you did in your first family did not always work in your new one especially when it came to parenting. Parenting is a tremendously active undertaking requiring a full commitment and a myriad of skills ranging from discipline to communication and support. Parenting requires a lot of energy. It becomes even more challenging in a stepfamily with more people and more complex issues. Since children respond better to actions than to words an effective parent is an active parent.

Understanding the Role of a Step Parent

Step families are created out of loss or even when a step family forms after a separation.
Step families are created out of loss or even when a step family forms after a separation.

Consistent Approach To Parenting

Reactive parents wait until their children push them to their limits and then they react often with frustration anger and random discipline. When parents react rather than act they are allowing the child to control both the situation and the parents own emotions. Problems tend to continue or even worsen as parent and child reenact the same frustrating scenes over and over. An integral part of the problem is that most parents do not have a consistent approach to parenting. Children use a little of what their parents did and a little of the exact opposite of what their parents did or what they picked up from friends books and magazine articles.

An integral part of the problem is that most parents do not have a consistent approach to parenting.
An integral part of the problem is that most parents do not have a consistent approach to parenting.

The Many Challenges of Step Families

Many challenges are similar to those in foster and adoptive families. A significant change has played a large role in these families and it is critical that parents in stepfamilies understand how change and grief have shaped their children’s lives and their own lives up to now. Many newly remarried couples have troublesome issues they have not cleared up such as unresolved loss and unrealistic expectations for the coming changes. Stepfamilies are created out of loss either through death or divorce or maybe even when an unofficial stepfamily forms after a separation. The experience of such loss leaves behind painful emotions that may take a long time to resolve. Adult’s feelings of guilt anger and sadness may point to unresolved grief. They might not know how to grieve because they never learned. If you have not taken the time to grieve chances are that your children are withholding painful feelings as well In fact even if you have worked through your grief your children may still be grieving. Each stepfamily child and adult have a different mix of losses to mourn and a unique way and pace of grieving. A death of a parent or a divorce is a loss that in some ways can affect children’s lives forever.The most major change for children is that they no longer see both parents daily or they may have moved and left familiar surroundings and friends in school.

Easing transitions between two parental households can be hard on kids emotionally.
Easing transitions between two parental households can be hard on kids emotionally.

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Denying the importance of your former partner

Some adults deny the importance of a former spouse to their children’s lives or they deny stepchildren the need to maintain positive relationships with their other biological parent. When children have poor or no relationships with their biological parents they have far greater problems adjusting to their new stepparent. When family members do not talk openly about these feelings and allow them to be expressed the result is often even greater conflict and stress. Make it okay for your family to feel whatever it is that you or your children are feeling and model to your children how to express these painful feelings in words rather than through misbehavior. If your remarriage is to succeed you must move beyond denial. It merely dulls the pain and hinders your progression through the healing process. Denial cannot erase your feelings and continued denial dents your chances for a successful stepfamily. To move out of denial try the tips below.

  1. Create awareness recognize that some stressful issues and strong feelings exist among the members of your stepfamily as in families. Admit your own part in upholding the denial and your motive in doing so. Imagine your own worst fear of exposure and begin to face that fear. Awareness alone is not enough and family members must risk sharing their fears and feelings to air long denied issues.
  2. Easing transitions between two parental households can be hard on kids emotionally. Different rules expectations loyalty conflicts and powerful emotions can feel confusing or overwhelming. These challenges can also cause adults to make inaccurate judgments about the time their children spend in the other house. Here is an opportunity to nurture your relationships with the children in your stepfamily by helping them make smoother transitions between households. Be careful to assist and suggest without taking on their responsibilities. Of course first, ask them if they want your help. Start a casual conversation and if the child accepts your help begin by asking some questions. Then listen well. Of course, you cannot prevent all problems.
  3. Consider discipline as a motivator your goal is to teach your children not to scare or shame them. In fact, we can teach far better without hurting their bodies. Whenever you discipline a child for negative behavior be sure to explore the roots of why that misbehavior occurred and opportunities to encourage any improvement the child makes. When using discipline to influence your children you always want to use the least assertive method that works. Let discipline be motivated by caring. When your children know you are disciplining them because you care it is easier for them to understand rather than you discipline them out of frustration and anger.

Always be there to support your stepparent partner.
Always be there to support your stepparent partner.

Improve your support to your partner

As a biological parent in a stepfamily tries to be there for your stepparent partner. Listen well and offer encouragement and support. Try putting yourself in the stepparent’s shoes and see which one you would prefer. Take a close look at the way you and your partner work together as a team. First, determine if you have reactive tendencies. Make it your goal to reduce and eventually eliminate active responses and instead become an active partner who uses active communication skills. As you start improving your communication with your partner and as you begin supporting each other you will find yourself in a more satisfying couple relationship. The secret to your step family’s success is both simple and complex.

Be Aware of Time and Patience

Remaining aware of time and patience will give you the patience and perspective you need to make it through the tough times eventually leading you to a place where you can celebrate your hard-won stepfamily success. With that success is a bonus feeling of great pride as you reap the rewards of a job well done. The high divorce rate among remarried couples suggests that not everyone has the necessary staying power to make it through the challenges of stepfamily living. Developing a satisfying stepfamily is a process that takes much time and patience many of these couples probably gave up too soon or was not prepared for what was ahead. There are times when most couples feel like giving up but what separates those who eventually succeed from those who do not is often a matter of commitment. If you are going to be one of the success stories it is essential that you make a long-term commitment to building your new stepfamily.

You have learned the wisdom of taking whatever time is necessary to navigate the often bumpy and twisting path towards step family success and the simple part is in understanding that this is a process and you must patiently work through its stages.

Communication The Road to Cooperation teaching the kids in your step family how to solve problems

First and foremost it requires good communication skills. You will be amazed at how many adults need to polish up their communication skills so that they can effectively model positive behaviors children. Many adults share that improving their own communication skills for parenting also makes them more effective with co-workers friends and spouses because communication skills help build cooperation. Cooperation is two or more people working together in a mutually supportive way toward a common goal. In a high-tech diverse and democratic society children who learn to work cooperatively with others have a far greater chance at success than those who overemphasize competition.

Understanding Step families

By now you should be familiar with the idea that children in stepfamilies because of their history of loss and change may be more likely than other children to engage in risky behavior. Part of the problem is that these kids are also more likely to lack the parental support they need during this painful time of transition. By taking an active role in your children’s lives and not allowing them to fall through the cracks you can make all the difference. Your children will feel torn between loyalties to each of you making parenting more difficult and straining your relationship with your new partner. Loyalty conflicts undermine your children’s self-esteem and cause confusion jealousy guilt and resentment feelings. When you make a conscious commitment to the success of your stepfamily and learn to trust in the slow but sure process of becoming a different kind of family you can begin transforming stressful relationships into special ones. The caring and concern that comes from facing reality through teamwork will lead you to toward the success you seek.

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