About 50% of all marriages are actually remarriages for one or both spouses. Remarriages bring challenges that first marriages do not, like often blending the lives not just of the spouses, but their children as well. Many myths prevail about blended families, beginning with the cliché notion of the “evil stepmother.” However, there are other dynamics to consider:
Will we ever bond?
The amount of time it takes you to bond with your stepchildren may depend on a number of factors such as your backgrounds, attitudes and values. You may find that you and your stepchildren may take several years to adapt and get used to each other. The older children are at the time you form a stepfamily, the more difficulty they may have because they are more accustomed to their biological parent(s). They may also feel embarrassed about the divorce and remarriage, or may feel caught between their biological parents. Do your best to be supportive of the children’s feelings, understanding that if you are sincere, all you and the children likely need is just time.
Part-time vs. Full-Time Kids
When children split their time between households, they may need to learn and follow different rules at each home. Younger children may find this a bit confusing. For example, one biological parent may require much from the children regarding household chores, whereas the other may not. As a stepparent, do your best not only to support your spouse’s household rules, but also not to be negative about the other biological parent’s policies. When rules differ and children become argumentative or confused, one approach may be to explain, “We have our rules at this house and your mom/dad has his/her own rules at his/her house. We don’t decide the rules for his/her house, but we do for our house.”
Although you may be accustomed to your own style of discipline, it may not be the answer for your spouse’s kids. Discuss your discipline plans with your spouse and decide if you will try to have the same style for all of the children, or if you will each keep your own style for your own biological children. If you and your spouse decide to “merge” styles, explain the new plan to the children, but don’t expect to be a disciplinarian to your stepchildren right away; it may take them some time to become accustomed to the new rules. Until everyone is “on board” with the new rules, it’s best for the biological parent to be the primary disciplinarian and for the stepparent to take on a supporting role.
“But that’s not fair”
There will be times when you are tempted to do, say or buy something for your biological child that makes a stepchild jealous. It’s perfectly natural to feel somewhat differently about your biological children than your stepchildren, but do your best to minimize “unfair” situations by maintaining good communication with your spouse about how the two of you will treat your own, and each other’s, children.
And… what about the “evil stepmother?”
One well-known movie quote states, “If you build it, they will come,” meaning that if you set the expectation for something, it will surely happen. The same is true for stepfamily situations. As the biological parent, help your own children understand why stereotypes can be damaging and how to approach this stepfamily situation with an open mind and positive attitude. Don’t set the expectation that they should fall victim to the stereotype and slide into their own negative opinion. And, of course, as the stepparent, steer clear of any words or actions that would permit the children, or your spouse, to categorize you as “evil.”
Becoming a stepparent is challenging, to say the least, and requires a level head and gentle approach. But with an open mind, good communication, and a whole lot of patience, you, your spouse and your combined children not only can manage day-to-day living, but can become — as they say — “one big happy family.”