Blended families are very common, and while being a stepparent can be a rewarding experience, it can also be an enormous challenge.
While some of the pieces involved in creating a functional family unit is beyond your control, there are lots of things you can do to make the integration process smoother and easier for everyone.
- Take it slowly. All kids need time to adjust to change and they may not even be conscious of their reactions. Give children time to get used to you and the new family dynamic. And, if the children have another involved parent from the previous relationship, don’t overstep and force your views and role as the new parent in a way that threatens the other parents’ role.
- Create house rules with your partner. When you work together rules will come from you and your spouse’s united front.
- Be consistent. Children are less likely to see you as a threat if they know they can trust you. Being consistent in your behavior (toward them and otherwise) is a great way to build trust.
- Meet kids where they are. How old children are when you become their stepparent can dramatically impact how easy or challenging the family integration will be. It’s critical to first understand what each child needs based on their individual development, and then go from there. Teens are entirely different than toddlers.
- Find common ground. Get to know the child and, if possible, pick something you both like to do (like cooking, sports, or art) as one way to gently insert yourself into their life as a friend.
- Boundaries! Set boundaries early and hold to them. Kids will test their limits, but stay consistent. For example, if your home office is off-limits, let kids know and stick to it.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, and it’s a very good idea to seek the help of a therapist who specializes in blended families. Whether you go solo to therapy or as a couple, you’ll likely gain valuable insights, and your partner won’t be the only receptacle for your frustrations.