27 Jan New Stepparent in the Home? Blended Family Strategies that Work
Navigating family relationships with a new stepparent can be stressful and cause newly blended family members to be unsure of their roles and family placement. These strategies will help parents and new stepparents start off on the right foot. In families with conflictual stepparent to stepchild relationships, these positive approaches can reconstruct the relationships to improve sensitivity and communication.
The Step Family Foundation reports that 30 million children under the age of 13 are living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner, remarried or re-coupled. Stepfamilies are fairly common; however, every family is unique. Stepparents may have children of their own or be new to parenting. In families, roles are important because they provide connection and direction. Parents and the new stepparents need to discuss these developing roles before introducing them to the children. This provides a structure with the parents being a united front and in charge of the newly blended family.
To help guide your family these six strategies will introduce good communication, cohesion, and flexibility.
THINK. Consider these things about the Stepchild(ren):
- Age of Child(ren)
- Older children (12+) may need a friend or mentor in order to start a bond, not an additional parent.
- Younger children may need a parental figure to provide nurturing, structure, and reassurance of a lasting relationship.
- Past Experiences
- How did they handle their parent’s separation, divorce, or loss? What was their previous experience with stepparents, stepsiblings, etc.?
- They may be fearful of another person coming into their life and then possibly leaving.
- Their knowledge of stepfamilies. Do they have friends in similar situations and what is their understanding or view from those situations?
- Parental Replacement or Loyalty to Non-residential Parent
- They may feel an obligation to their biological parent, to not allow someone new to replace their role. Invisible loyalty is strong for children of any age. A parent addressing their feelings and actions can make it acceptable to discuss.
- Change is difficult and scary for children. Refusal to allow something new is a way to protect themselves or have control.
6 Strategies for A New Stepparent
Communication is Key
If it is not stated out loud, then how are others supposed to know! Address feelings, expectations, contention, or needs. This can create understanding and solutions to problems and strengthen connection. Do not continuously pull other family members into the middle of the problem, figure out how to communicate directly.
Set Realistic Expectations
Know your own expectations of this newly blended family. Expectations should be achievable and you must be willing to adjust when needed. Unrealistic or confounding expectations can create tension. For example, a stepparent assuming their stepchild knows to not make plans on a Sunday, because in their mind it’s a family day. Not sharing expectations and assuming will only lead to disappointment. Hearing others’ expectations can create shared and realistic outcomes.
Establishing New Rules and Roles
Parents should discuss expectations and decide things first and show the children a united front. Decide how discipline and enforcement will happen, i.e. the biological parent being in charge and the other parent supporting or both as equal disciplinarians. Family member’s roles may shift in a blended household. Have sit-down conversations to discuss rules, chores, discipline, and conflict resolution. Incorporate values and upbringing because they largely influence our perspectives and implicit ideas.
Choose Respect and Needs Over Wants and Retaliation
Children of parental loss or divorce need additional love and support. They might push back against a new adult and cause conflictual relationships because they’re fearful of something new. Be patient and provide compassion; as the adult, you have the responsibility to be the bigger person. Try seeing their negative feelings and actions as a result of feeling a lack of control in their situations. Set limits with love, not anger and punishment, and allow time for the child to feel comforted and secure.
Create New Traditions with the New Stepparent
Play games together, go for walks or hikes, or do something as a family to build positive bonds. Parents should encourage relationships and incorporate fun activities to do all together. This can help absolve tension and form shared meanings and values. Make sure to respect and adapt old traditions to include new members.
Make A Therapy Appointment
Are you worried about how to start these conversations or address these issues? Therapy can aid in implementing these skills and provide space to discuss and process feelings. Sessions can include just the parents, select members, or the entire family. North Shore Family Services has excellent therapists to assist your family in applying these strategies. They can help everyone to process and adjust to the changes within the family and function better together.
Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships. Papernow, P. (2013)
The Step Family Foundation. www.Stepfamily.org
North Shore Family Services is a team of skilled and approachable therapists that help parents, children, teens, adults, and couples reduce anxiety and stress, learn effective problem-solving techniques, and manage emotions and behaviors that inhibit personal, school, family, and relationship success. We make therapy a productive, engaging and relaxing place for everyone to work hard and make the improvements they desire. To find the right-fit therapist for you and your family, visit our clinician’s page.