Are you seeking to blend a new family together? Are you wondering how step-parents can become an integral part of their new family’s lives?
Many new step-parents walk into new situations with high hopes. You’re hoping you’ll immediately begin singing and playing with your new spouse’s kids just like Carol Brady or Maria von Trapp.
Yet the reality is that step-parenting is hard. Sibling rivalry, parenting power struggles, and new responsibilities can all come as quite a shock. But step-parenting can also be a very rewarding experience as long as you approach the situation with a little creativity and a lot of love.
Here are some of our favorite tips for new step-parents.
Remember that the situation is new for both of you. Think about how you would feel if an older adult came to live in your house and you didn’t know anything about them! You’d probably feel a bit awkward and intimidated at first.
The reality is that we all have unique interests and personalities, and there are probably some things you have in common with your new step-children. Maybe you like to shop, play music, or watch old movies.
It’s important not to force your way into your new step-child’s life. Instead, wait for opportunities to find common interests or to relate to theirs.
For example, maybe a trip to the mall is the only prolonged activity you enjoy with your new teenaged stepdaughter all week. That’s fine as long as you’re developing a rapport and learning how to relate. You may find that this leads to additional conversations that happen spontaneously in the future.
2. Leave the Discipline to Your Spouse
One of our favorite tips for step-parents is to allow your spouse to discipline at first. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, and you should be involved in creating standards for your home. For example, maybe you want to decide on some basic rules and some reasonable consequences in case they get broken.
However, disciplining your stepchild could really serve to isolate them initially. Whenever possible, allow your spouse to enforce consequences.
If these are clear ahead of time, you may be able to enforce rules when your spouse isn’t home. However, it’s important for them to back you up when you are together again. Sticking with an established set of boundaries can help win your authority and respect in the long run.
3. Allow Them to Sort Through Problems
If your step-child is having a difficult time with their new home situation, it’s important not to take their behavior personally. They may be experiencing anger, guilt, or fear due to the divorce of their biological parents.
It’s important to honor those feelings and allow children to work them out in their own time. If possible, allow them to get help from a qualified therapist who can help them process feelings so they don’t come out in unhealthy ways. Therapies like dialectical behavioral therapy allow children to use mindfulness and emotional regulation to help them work through their experiences and become healthy, productive young people.
4. Establish Routines and Rituals
Remember that children adjusting to a new family are undergoing a lot of stress. Routines can help to create a calmer household, establish expectations, and give your child more confidence.
Make sure your child follows a schedule each week that they can count on. Write it out on your family calendar if you have a tendency to forget.
Weekly traditions can also have wonderful benefits for your relationships with your stepchildren. Maybe you have a family game night on Tuesdays or watch a movie together every Sunday. You will find that both you and your child look forward to these safe moments together.
5. Have a Sense of Humor
Younger children especially will tend to see you as a threat if you’re looking to establish a ship-shape house where no one misbehaves and everyone follows the rules all the time. A gentler approach, however, can help to endear you to them.
Kids spill things and parents buy the wrong thing at the grocery store. Laughing at the imperfections in your life will show your stepchildren that you have a healthy attitude even when things aren’t perfect. And it will encourage them to do the same.
6. Make Special Arrangements
Maybe you won’t be the parent your child is living with most of the time. This means you may have to keep a special cabinet of things for them, such as their toothbrushes, comfy clothes, or favorite snacks.
You won’t want your step-children to feel as though they are a visitor in your house. They won’t need to pack a suitcase if they already have their own special belongings in your home.
7. Insist on Respect
An authoritarian approach may not be the most productive when you’re new to your step-child’s life. Instead, try to foster a relationship based on mutual respect. You will always treat your step-child with respect, and expect them to do the same.
Sometimes a “do-over” is quite helpful with this. When children are disrespectful, you can simply ask them to repeat their request or concern in a respectful way. You’re letting them know their tone isn’t acceptable without making them feel belittled.
Advice For New Step-Parents
New step-parents have a daunting task ahead of them. You’re looking to build a new family and establish a parenting relationship with someone you may not know well. Yet the right approach and a good attitude can have you bonding with your new family in no time.
Don’t stop getting smart about your family and relationships now. For more great advice, read our blog today.