In the U.S., about half of marriages end in divorce.
Children of divorce face many challenges. Not only do they have to deal with the breakup of their families, but many kids also have to find their place in new, blended families. The adjustment can be difficult for stepchildren and stepparents alike. The process of blending families is a tricky dance and, not uncommonly, members of blended families may step on each other’s toes.
In my office, I’ve gotten to witness many of these families make breakthroughs, and experience some of their very best moments. I’ve also been privy to the difficult circumstances that many blended families face.
In an effort to facilitate harmonious functioning in blended families, I have five tips for stepparents, who are in a position to set the tone for the family. Keep in mind that being a stepparent is not for the faint of heart or those who lack courage.
Here are my suggestions:
Be patient. Don’t enter the marriage expecting your stepchildren to warm up to you immediately or even within a few months. This process may take years. I have watched defiant and irritable stepchildren become very close with stepparents who saw them through their difficult moments with patience. Patience is indeed a virtue and will be very much appreciated by your stepkids. It’s also critical for your relationship with your partner.
Be kind. Your stepchildren are watching and listening to you. Your kindness will not be lost on them. Years later, they will remind you of the kindness that you showed toward them, and consistent kindness can help you work through difficult circumstances together.
Be consistent. The kids will love you for this. Everyone wants to know what to expect. In particular, be consistently kind and patient. This will certainly not be easy, but it’s worth every bit of effort. No child is comfortable with unpredictable behavior and walking on proverbial eggshells.
Refrain from criticizing the “other parent.” When you criticize the child’s other biological parent – who isn’t part of the blended family – you are, in essence, criticizing the child. In addition, you’re undermining the delicate work you’re doing to build a relationship with the child. There will be many times when you need to hold your tongue. You don’t need to make all of your thoughts known to the child. Once hurtful words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back.
Don’t play the blame game. It’s the human condition to want to assign blame when tensions run high, including within families. But while it may not be easy to keep from pointing fingers when difficulties arise, refraining from doing so is critical to maintain harmony within the family. Keep in mind that in order to keep your cool you will have to practice deep breathing, some meditation and sometimes even spend time alone to calm down.
[See: 8 Ways to Relax – Now.]
None of these suggestions are easy to follow. Nor is it second nature to practice patience, for example, or refrain from being overly critical in difficult circumstances. But the benefits your family will realize as a result of doing so are worth all the effort. Trust me.