“Blending a family is like a dish that takes a long time to cook,” says Molly Barrow, PhD, author of How to Survive StepParenting. “You can’t force it before it’s ready.”
Hollywood has portrayed parenting a step child in its best-case scenario – in The Sound Of Music, we all wished we were one of the Von Trapp children who got to hear Maria sing to them every day – and in its worst case scenario – let’s face it, Snow White and Cinderella had it pretty bad.
In real life it can be a roller coaster of emotions and situations that you as the step parent have to manage as diplomatically and sensitively as possible!
Marrying into an existing family can be very difficult – there is usually a well-established routine and a “way of doing things” in the house, and you have to be careful not to rock the boat too much. “The key,” says a stepmum of two girls aged four and eight, “is not to be overly eager with the kids – they can tell when you are trying too hard and it can come across as fake to them. Be as natural as possible, give them their space and eventually they will come to you. Children need two parents in their lives.”
While there is no one way that works for everyone and ensures a smooth transition, here are some general tips from Mumzworld Stepmumz, that can be beneficial to everyone in this delicate situation.
- Get the Lay of the Land – Not all children will react to your presence in the same way – their age, sex and relationship with their parent, your spouse, will affect their reaction and relationship to you. Try to get to know the child as much as possible and try not to impose your opinions and ideas at the beginning, be an observer.
- Get on the same parenting page – get to know what the parameters are from your spouse, from the set of values to punishments, you have to be on the same page as your spouse when it comes to raising their kids.
- Give space – Allow the child alone time with their mother or father. The child might feel that you have “taken them away” and might resent you if they don’t get enough quality alone time with their parent.
- Prepare to be tested – some children might test you to suss out who you are and possibly get a negative reaction out of you. Do not take it personally if they are being difficult, and it might be an option to discuss it with you partner to come to the best solution for you and the child.
- Empathize – put yourself in their shoes. That will help you not lose your temper, get overly upset or take it too personally.
- Ask your spouse to sit down and explain to the child that another person is joining the family who will also be responsible for them, and that it may take some time to get used to. It might be worth it to point out that while nobody expects instant love and affection, manners and respect are essential.
- Spend some alone time with your step child. Going to the movies alone with them or taking them out for lunch or ice cream gets you some quality time with them and a chance for them to get to know you.
- No matter how tempting it is, do not ever talk negatively about their other biological parent, no matter what – you will never forgive yourself if they end up hating their parent because of you.
- Always come from a place of love, even when they aren’t listening and are being difficult, especially with teenagers – it’s a very difficult and hormonal time for them as it is.
- If you have other kids make sure not to exclude your step child, spend time as a family.
- Things take time – Do not expect a child to change their attitude and behaviour overnight, it is not only unrealistic but unfair as well. Consistency in your attitude and behaviour however, can provide much needed stability and reassurance for them, and will build trust and foster love over time.
Mumzworld’s favourite tip – Remind yourself that you are doing a good job!