Couples with kids often enter a second marriage erroneously, thinking their new family will work just like an ordinary biological family and that everyone and everything will integrate quickly. They may expect kids who are the same age to become close friends or an only child to be happy at having siblings. They may be pretty surprised when that does not happen. Many parents are puzzled to discover that their kids, who were previously pleased to share activities or outings with the new partner and their children, become pretty sullen and angry as soon as a wedding is announced.
Kids of every age feel unsafe following a divorce, and it is only natural for them to feel jealous and insecure. As a result, kids often consider newcomers to the family as trespassers who threaten to ultimately take away their biological parent’s affection, time, and attention. Quite commonly, they misbehave. These kids have already been through the shock of a divorce. They have had to adapt to life with only one parent and seeing their other parent only at intervals. Now they are being asked to adjust to life in a step-family where nothing or little is familiar or the same. Here are a few important rules to help everyone adapt:
Deciding ahead of time, each stepparent’s role in raising their own kids goes a long way toward keeping anxieties at bay and easing the transition into a happy family. Regardless of how adorable you are or how much compassion you have for the losses experienced by your stepchildren, you are not a replacement father or mother, and you cannot resolve your stepchildren’s issues. Don’t expect them to call you Dad or Mom. They need to decide what they want to call you or mutually decide on a comfortable name for both of you.
Even though your kids may be living with you, they are spending vacations or weekends with their other parents, who may have no rules at all or an entirely different set of regulations and expectations. What may be OK at one home may not be OK at the other. It is essential to discuss these exceptions with your kids and be patient with them when they forget whose home they are in. They need to understand what to expect, and they will need calm reminders.
When relationships get wobbly, stepparents who want to repair their relationship with a stepchild should not cave in, get outmaneuvered, lose their temper, or respond with childish behavior. The first time you hear, “You cannot tell me what to do, you’re not my father (or mother),” your natural inclination may be to vomit your frustration and fire back. It can be pretty hurtful to be rejected by a stepchild who really wants nothing to do with you. However, this is one of those circumstances when you will have to carefully hold your tongue, step back, and take a close and unemotional look at what is really going on. As the wiser, older, and more mature people in the family, it will be up to you and your partner to keep family dynamics on a definite course. If relationships are to better, you are the ones to do it. While few will accept it, most kids want to rely on the adults in their family to level things out and keep everybody on track. However, this is not a mandate to force the relationship in any particular direction or for parents to be bossy.
Whatever issues you face in developing a new family, all your kids need to know beyond any doubt that there is more than sufficient love to go around for everyone. Happy family life is created by committed, caring people working together to discover creative ways to bind their new family unit together. That really means that everyone must make an effort to be tolerant, flexible, and patient. Despite the potential pitfalls, you and your spouse have decided to embark on a fresh start. Could you please make the most of it?