With more and more first marriages ending in divorce, step parents and blended families are becoming increasingly common. While there are obviously issues which need to be addressed, being a step parent doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here are some tips for dealing with the most common issues.
Rules, Boundaries and Discipline
It’s hard enough making rules and boundaries for your own children, let alone step children. No matter how reasonable the rules are, you run the risk of a being a wicked step parent if you decide them yourself, and expect everyone to get it.
Chances are your step child already has a set of rules and boundaries they are used to, and these need to be considered when making new guidelines for your blended family. Have a chat with your partner and come up with some basic guidelines that you can both agree on. Decide which ones you (as a couple) are not prepared to compromise on, and which ones are open for discussion, then call a family meeting so that everybody gets to have a say about what’s fair.
Once the boundaries and consequences are decided, write up a contract explaining how things happen in your family, and get everyone to sign it. That way when challenges hit, it’s already in writing. You can’t be the wicked step parent if you are only enforcing what they already agreed to.
“You’re not my Mum / Dad!”
Oh boy, this is a goodie! The reality is, your step child has a point. Whether they live with you day to day, or you only have them at weekends, you are still not their biological parent and, no matter what happens, you never will be.
Regardless of how you feel about your step child’s other parent, it is really important that you don’t try to replace them. The harder you try, the more distant your step child will become – it’s just the way natural order works. Their Mum and Dad will always be their Mum and Dad, and step parents will only ever come a close, but still very loved second.
Depending on the age of your step child, you may like to have a talk with them about what your role is in their life. Explain to them that you don’t want to replace their Mum or Dad, and that you are excited to have your own role as a step-parent. Getting this clear right from the start can save an awful lot of hassles later on.
Like it or not, parents naturally go in to bat for their children when conflict occurs, and some children will use this to their advantage. There’s no magic wand which will take away your lioness nature (and you wouldn’t want to!), so it’s important to treat conflict between your children and step children with a little bit of distance.
Before you go rushing to your child’s defense, take off your Mum (or Dad) hat, and really see the conflict for what it is. In almost every conflict situation, there are things that both parties could do differently. Point these things out to both your child and step child, and encourage them to sort it out themselves. You will be surprised how effectively children can manage conflict when they are given the opportunity to do so.
If both you and your partner at present to the conflict, you need to make sure you have a united front. If you can’t agree straight away, leave the room and talk about it before deciding on an action. Children need to know they can’t make you take sides, and who knows, they may work it out for themselves while you’re gone.
Jealousy has to be one of the most common emotions in a blended family, and it’s something the whole family will have to deal with. Children can get jealous of the relationship you have with your partner, especially if they see it as taking precious time and attention away from them. Adults can get jealous of children, especially if they didn’t have their own children before entering the relationship. And children can get jealous of their step siblings, for all sorts of reasons. It’s a terribly tangled web!
The easiest way to deal with jealousy is to be upfront about it whenever it occurs. Make a regular time every week where the whole family can sit down and talk about what’s going on for them. Make a rule that no-one judges, justifies or belittles, and that whatever needs to be said is okay.
Relationship with Your Step Child’s Other Parent
Regardless of how you feel about your step child’s other parent, it is critical that you do not put them down in front of the child. Just because they may do things differently to you, it doesn’t make them wrong or incapable. If the parent is really as bad as you think, the child will eventually work that out for themselves.
With all of these issues to deal with, there’s bound to be times when you wonder if it’s all worth it. Blending two families together can put a real strain on your relationship, and while some first marriages stay together for the kids, many second marriages fall apart for the same reason.
There are specialist counseling and support networks that will help you get through the really trying times of parenting. Some counseling services offer consultation, group work, ongoing seminars, and even programmes you can do at home when it suits you. Contact your NZ Citizens Advice Bureau for free information or local counseling services to steer you in the right direction.
If it’s not the parenting, but your own relationship that you need help with, then don’t panic. You can access free counselling services through the family court, and you can use these sessions as a couple, or on your own. Anyone in a ‘live in’ relationship is eligible for free counselling, and you can apply by visiting the family court, or downloading a ‘Request for Counselling’ form from their website justice.co.nz/family.
For more great ‘blended families’ articles check out our Making a Family section.