Stepparenting is not easy

  • Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2012 2:57 p.m.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” – Bible

“Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a stepdad.” – Anonymous

Sam and Shelly were all excited. They were returning from their honeymoon, looking forward to a wonderful life together – with their three children. They had both been married before. Sam was bringing two children to their marriage and Shelly one.

There was no question in the minds and plans of Sam and Shelly that there would be instant and lasting harmony in the family. After all, Sam and Shelly loved each other, and they just knew that their children would love them and each other just as much. Boy, were they in for a rude awakening.

Stepparenting, and especially step-grandparenting, is not easy. But as the divorce rates increase, more and more families are facing the challenges of a blended family. In addition, many couples are now bringing children into their marriage from previous relationships outside of marriage. This introduces added barriers to be overcome.

Following is information extracted from several articles written by Ron Deal and published by Focus on the Family.

The first thing to remember is that the marriage, the relationship between the husband and the wife, is still the No. 1 focus. The marriage must be strong to endure the added pressures that the blended family introduces. The husband and wife must recognize they are on the same side; they cannot let their children pit them against each other.

Communication, which is an important component in any marriage, is crucial in a blended family. The issues that will arise must be talked through by the husband and wife together. Undesirable memories and habits from the previous marriages must be appropriately recognized and addressed, even to the point of obtaining outside help.

Prior to and early in a marriage involving a blended family, realism must be applied liberally. Expecting children to immediately get along together in the intimate setting of the family is not practical. It takes time, which is probably a key phrase in building any healthy stepfamily.

Following quickly in importance after the husband-wife relationship is the building of relationships with the children. This means stepparent to child and also child to child.

While acting in loving ways facilitates bonding between child and stepparent, the child’s level of openness largely depends on factors that are out of the stepparent’s control, e.g. the age of the child, his relationships with his biological parents, the amount of time spent in the stepparent’s home. Patience and unconditional love from the stepparent are essential.

Even though the goal is to be a two-parent family, the stepparent must understand that he or she is an added parent figure in the child’s life, not a replacement parent. In many ways the biological parent still is an influence in the child’s life, either physically in the present or in memory from the past. This isn’t necessarily bad but does take time, patience and communication to develop the proper balance.

It is not necessary that the child immediately starts utilizing the term Dad or Mom for the stepparent. Use of those terms will happen gradually, if it happens at all. If it doesn’t, come to an agreement on a mutually satisfactory alternative.

It is also important to recognize that stepparenting is a two-person task. Both parents must work together in disciplining and otherwise guiding all the children. The biological parent will often take the lead initially, but the goal will be to involve both parents as much as possible.

Make an intentional effort to build a history together in the new family. Plan events together, trips and other activities that build new memories. Play games. Establish holiday traditions.

Step-grandparenting is even more of a challenge because of the initial remoteness of the relationship between the child and the step-grandparent. The development of such relationships takes time and patience and cannot be forced.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.

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