In this two part series, I will be looking at ways that spouses can work towards making a step family work successfully. If you are a member of a stepfamily, or are grandparents to a stepfamily, then you know how difficult it can be to integrate all of the new members and adjust to the new boundaries and rules. God may have provided a spouse and family for you but sometimes being an authority as a step parent can be challenging, as well as a grandparent to a stepchild.
Lifestyles in the 21st century demand a different approach than that of the past. Both adults may be working or engaged in activities that differ from their children and many times the children coming into a new family may find it a challenge to integrate or adopt the new lifestyle, all the while the parents/adults have courted and found deep rooted connections with one another. The parents and children are on two different levels/perspectives as a new family is created.
I would like to suggest some ideas for parents and grandparents to consider ideas as you work through this challenging process together:
1) Have patience. Establishing new families takes time. Just because you love your new partner, it is unrealistic to think that you will automatically love his or her children. It is equally unrealistic to expect that your new partner’s children will instantly love you. It can be difficult to accept that even though you wish to have a relationship with your stepchildren, they may not be ready for a relationship with you.
2) Expect to adjust. With proper help and guidance, children can recover from family disruption. All children experience a difficult adjustment period following a divorce or remarriage. It takes time, patience, and perhaps some professional assistance, but most children are able to regain their emotional bearings. It is critical that the adults manage their own emotional recovery in order to help the children adjust without too much trauma.
3) If you are part of a part-time stepfamily, you may need a longer adjustment period. All relationships take time to grow and develop. When stepchildren see you less often, you have less time to get to know each other. This is why it may take a part-time stepfamily longer to move through the adjustment process.
4) Don’t expect your new family to be like your first family. If you expect that your stepfamily will be just like the family of your first marriage, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Your new family will have its own unique identity and will evolve in its own special way.
5) Expect confusion. Forming a stepfamily is a confusing time for everyone. Think about how confusing it is for a child to become part of two new families. All of the family members—parents and children—must learn to understand the new structure and learn to navigate the boundaries.
6) Allow time for grieving. Stepfamilies begin with an experience of loss, and everyone needs to grieve. The adults’ losses are not the same as those of the children, and both must be respected. Adults tend to grieve the following losses:
• The loss of a partner
• The loss of a marriage relationship
• Lost dreams of the way they thought it would be
• They must adjust to changes that result from the divorce or death (moving to a new house, starting a new job, adjusting to changes in lifestyle, etc.)
In next month’s article, I will be looking at ways children grieve the family changes and what things can be helpful for them. Children have an especially difficult time resolving their grief when their parents are hostile with one another, when one or both of their parents remarry, and if they have trouble accepting their new stepparents.