Say you are a stepparent or about to become one. You may assume that your stepchildren will welcome your love and attention, especially if the kids have been through a rough passage.
But it's not always that easy. Stepparenting is often harder than parenting, for several reasons.
Building bonds with stepchildren
You may find stepparenting harder than parenting because you expect too much, as many stepparents do. You may believe that love will occur quickly and naturally. But you might not fall in love with your stepchildren, and they are unlikely to feel immediate affection for you.
It's okay to settle for mutual respect. Deeper relationships take time to develop.
You can work toward a close relationship with your stepchildren by helping them feel:
· Safe and secure. Be reliable and do what you say you will do.
· Valued. Listening to their opinions and consider their needs.
· Emotionally connected. Empathize with them.
· Appreciated. Praise and encourage them whenever possible.
Another reason stepparenting can be harder than parenting is that stepchildren come into the mix at a variety of ages. Their ages can influence how quickly you can build a relationship with them.
Children under 10 are often quickest to accept a stepparent, while children ages 10 to 14 may have the most difficult time. Teens, who are busy forming their own identities, may be distant and hard to connect with.
Stepparenting will be hard if your stepchildren feel, rightly or wrongly, like second-class citizens. Even if your bonds with your stepchildren are still shaky, avoid openly putting your biological children above them.
This type of preferential treatment can harm the family as a whole. The partner relationship may even suffer. Conflict with children often affects the primary relationship.
When children feel divided loyalties
Stepchildren who are grieving can complicate the stepparent's role. If their parents divorced recently, your stepchildren may still be mourning the loss of their original family. They may not be psychologically ready to accept their parent's new partner.
Also, many children hope that their biological parents will get back together. When a stepparent enters the picture, children have to accept that this dream will not be coming true.
Stepchildren may also feel guilty about growing close to a stepparent. They may feel that they are betraying a biological parent.
It may help if you explain that you will not replace a parent. You are simply another person who cares for them.
The "other" parent
Dealing with the other parent of your stepchildren can also make stepparenting hard. You can avoid many problems by adopting the position that all parents deserve respect.
Being negative about your stepchild's biological parent can be very harmful to your developing relationship. No one really likes to hear someone else criticize a parent.
You should also avoid using children as messengers between households. Speak to the other parent directly when something needs to be communicated. And try not to resent it if your stepchildren choose to spend extra time with their other family.
The matter of discipline
Stepparenting can be harder than parenting because discipline is more complicated in a blended family. Stepchildren often resist correction by a stepparent. Following these guidelines may help.
Agree on house rules. Chances are that the two families that are being blended had different rules. Before you and your partner combine households, decide on a set of house rules. It helps if you start using the rules in each household even before the blending takes place.
Let the biological parent hand out discipline. Meanwhile, you can function more like a babysitter or grandparent. Encourage your stepchildren to complete tasks and follow house rules. But leave consequences for breaking the rules up to the biological parent, at least at first.Focus on the positive. Build a connection before you offer correction. At first, you can concentrate on praising and rewarding good behavior. Later, after your relationship is more secure, you can participate in discipline.
Other stepfamily challenges
The formation of a stepfamily usually means other changes that can make stepparenting harder than parenting. Forming a blended family may mean:
Changing homes. The formation of a stepfamily often means that some of the children must leave a beloved home. They may blame their stepparent.
Altered roles. Blending families may mean that the baby of the family is no longer the baby, or that an only child is no longer an only. Children may experience these changes as losing their place in the family. The stepparent may feel the effects of their distress.
Complicated scheduling. Events such as family vacations or holiday celebrations get more complicated when more people are involved. Both children and parents must accept that things can't be exactly the way they used to be. Such changes can be opportunities to build new traditions.
Keep your partnership strong
After deciding to create a blended family, one of the biggest challenges you and your partner may face is keeping your own relationship healthy amid so much change. A strong marriage or partnership is important for both parents and kids.
When parents are unhappy, children are likely to be unhappy too. If your relationship is in trouble, consider seeking counseling. Stepfamily support groups can be helpful as well.
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American Academy of Pediatrics: "Becoming a Stepfamily," "Some Advice for Stepparents."? ?
Families in Society: the Journal of Contemporary Human Services: "(Step)Parenting Attitudes and ?Expectations: Implications for Stepfamily Functioning and Clinical Intervention." ?
Gracepoint: "Remarriage, Step-Parenting, Blended Families." ?
Hand in Hand: "Making a Good Mix: Seven Tips for Stepparenting and Blended Families." ?
HelpGuide: "Blended Family and Step-Parenting Tips." ?
KidsHealth: "Becoming a Stepparent." ?
Michigan State University: "Disciplining dilemma: The role of the stepparent."
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