Stepmom wrote to Parenting Magazine,
The man I am marrying has two young children from a previous marriage. I will become “stepmom” soon. What suggestions do you have for a smooth transition? I want to nurture a healthy relationship with my soon-to-be husband’s children, but I also want to respect their relationship with their mother, too.
Many people are embarrassed to admit that they are clueless about how to make their stepfamilies connect and work well. The following tips will help clear up some of the confusion:
Getting married is very exciting for a couple; remarriage can be too, but the accompanying friction of merging families is a source of stress and frustration. The key to a successful stepfamily is a strong couple bond. When the couple is united and operates as a team, the children feel more secure at home.
Nurture your couple relationship by scheduling regular adult time, during which you and your spouse relate to one another as “adults,” not merely parental figures. Research findings and clinical experience discourages stepparents disciplining stepchildren within 18 months of getting married. That period is instead better spent building and solidifying a relationship with the stepchildren. Be consistently respectful and sensitive to the biological parent in the other household, to avoid dividing the children’s loyalties and to foster a positive relationship between the two households.
Tips for a smooth transition into the stepfamily:
- Evaluate your individual and joint expectations of your marriage, your stepfamily and your roles in both.
- Pre-remarriage counseling with a therapist specializing in stepfamilies will help you explore the stepfamily process and teach you how to increase the likeliness of your marriage being successful.
- Co-parenting between biological parents helps the children feel safe, secure and loved.
- Grant your children emotional permission to like and develop a relationship with their stepparent.
- Remember that your stepchildren experienced the loss of their biological family. It will take them time to trust that your marriage will last.
- Create new traditions for your stepfamily, while preserving some of the old traditions you shared with your spouse and stepchildren in the past.
- Children need time to adjust when they switch homes. Allow them a few hours to transition upon arrival and departure, as they may be anxious about the change in environment.
- Ultimately, always be guided by the children’s best interests.