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Step Families: Successful Steps

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I’ll never forget the first time I told my stepmom: “You’re not my mom.” Though I was only six years old, it was probably the first time I realized the power of words and the distance they could create.

While blending two families won’t be easy, there are some steps you can take to help avoid the common pitfalls. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, authors of Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts, provide several guidelines to creating healthy stepfamilies with their step parenting advice.

Put Your Marriage First

No matter how hard you try to make the transition easier for the children, their greatest sense of security will come from knowing they are living in a stable home again. If your marriage with your husband is strong, the children will adjust more quickly.

You may be harboring feelings of guilt and regret over any emotional difficulties your children have endured, and you may be determined to make it up to them by giving them all of your attention. But if you are only giving your husband your leftover time and energy, your marriage will suffer — and your children will become even more anxious at the possible threat of another divorce and turmoil in their lives.

In addition, when your marriage relationship is strong and you communicate openly with your husband, you will form a better parenting team.

Honor Traditions

Every family has traditions, whether it is reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve or going out for ice cream after a softball game. Traditions give your family a sense of identity and belonging. But when you combine the traditions, identities, and histories of two families, you may find sources of conflict that you had not anticipated. While it is important to respect your former traditions, focus on building traditions that are unique to your new family. Don’t try to force your old way of doing things, but look for alternative traditions that you can create together. Incorporate your husband, your children, and your stepchildren in the process of finding the best holiday traditions and weekend activities that you all can enjoy together.

Conduct Family Meetings

Every family can benefit from weekly family meetings, but stepfamilies especially can use this time together to work through differences, share frustrations, ask questions, and even plan fun activities and vacations together. Family meetings can keep busy schedules coordinated; make sure every family member’s opinion is heard, and bring the family together for a common purpose.

Provide Personal Space

If you or your husband have children who do not reside in your home, they need a part of the house that solely belongs to them. Make sure they don’t feel like guests but part of the family.

Give Time to Adjust

While you may be anxious to have a child with your new husband, most stepfamily experts recommend that you wait at least three years before you conceive. It typically takes this long just for a stepfamily to begin acting like a true family. So give your children an edge by keeping their lives as stable as you can during these transition years. Your existing children (and his) will need plenty of time to adjust to their new life, and having a brand new baby sibling will only complicate existing conflicts.

Drs. Parrott encourages stepfamilies with these insights: “Even so-called ‘normal’ intact families have difficulties. Children play one parent against the other, for example, and cause chaos in their parents’ lives. Parents all over the world have trouble finding time to be alone with each other, and so on. Your situation as a stepfamily will be no different. Difficulties are normal.

What challenges have you faced and been able to overcome?

This article is based on the book Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts: Nine Questions to Ask Before (and After) You Remarry by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. 

ASK YOUR CHILD...

What’s your favorite family tradition?

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