How to Build a Great Relationship with Stepchildren

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How to Build a Great Relationship with Stepchildren

By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott

Whether you’re getting married for the first time to a person who has children–or getting remarried and blending a family–you’re going to be navigating some unfamiliar territory in the coming years. Like starting a marriage, becoming a stepparent has its own set of challenges and rewards, and you’ll learn how to nurture these relationships as you begin your new life as a family.

Stepping into the role of stepmom or stepdad is a daunting and delicate undertaking. Making this transition well isn’t easy, but it’s very doable. The result of treading carefully into this new territory will be building a rewarding relationship with your spouse’s children.

Today we’re sharing a few tips to help you start on the right foot as a new stepparent.

MAKE A GENTLE TRANSITION

Whatever the situation, kids tend to have mixed feelings about a stepparent entering the picture. There may be things about your presence in the family that your spouse’s kids love…and then there might be a part of them that feels resistant to the changes.

It’s natural for children to feel excited about having a stepmom or stepdad on one hand (in particular, if the child has grown up in a single-parent home and has been craving that second parent in their life). But on the other hand, they’re likely aware of the fact that they’ve made it just fine all these years without you (and at some point, you’ll probably hear about it).

While you might feel overly eager to start this relationship on the right foot, be gentle as you make the transition into being part of this family. Don’t try to establish yourself as a parent just yet, and don’t aggressively pursue a connection with the kids–instead, seek to cultivate a friendship with your stepchildren. Be patient and allow the relationship to naturally deepen over time.

SHOW GENUINE INTEREST

Let your spouse’s kids know you’re genuinely interested in them. Work to find common ground–identify shared interests, activities you both enjoy, and any relatable topics that come up between you as you’re getting to know each other. Get on their level, and actively listen when they speak to you.

Show up to support them in their activities, like ball games and dance recitals. If your stepkids are creative, show an active interest in their artwork, music, writing, and other creations. Your stepkids will come to know they have an ally in you if they know you are for them.

RESPECT THEIR TRADITIONS

It’s important for you to show respect for the traditions your stepchildren and their parent have created as a family. If you attempt to come into this family and change everything they’ve been doing together up till now–whether those are holiday celebrations or simple weekly rituals–you’ll set yourself up for failure right off the bat.

Learn about your stepkids’ traditions, and work with your spouse to preserve as many of those as possible (if you have children of your own and are blending two families, this will be tricker–but can still be done). Over time, you’ll be able to slowly create new traditions with your spouse and stepchildren, and maybe even incorporate a few of your own. But for now, be patient and willing to let your spouse and their kids take the lead, understanding that slow changes will come with time.

DON’T TRY TO REPLACE THEIR OTHER PARENT

Whether your stepchildren have lost their other biological parent to death or divorce, be respectful of their attachment to that other parent. Communicate that to your stepkids, and be direct with them.

A great place to start would be to let them know you understand the special relationship they have with their mom or dad, and that you have no desire to replace that in any way. Let them know you’re glad you’re in their life, and welcome them into yours. It’s also good to let them know that you hope to have a strong relationship with them in the future.

Once you’ve established that your stepchildren can be friends with you–and that you do not expect to replace their biological mother or father–that can pave the way for a great connection between you and them. Getting this out into the open will release them from any notion that having a good relationship with you will create a conflict of interest with their other parent.

LET YOUR SPOUSE HANDLE THE DISCIPLINE

A fundamental reality of blended families is that the biological parent has to be responsible for disciplining the children. Being a stepparent is a role governed by mutual respect and friendship, and stepping into a disciplinarian role with your stepkids could hinder that goal. Enacting discipline must be your spouse’s choice.

That said, since your unique position in the family demands mutual respect, if you’re being treated unkindly by your spouse’s child, it’s within your right to remove yourself from the interaction. Tell the child you feel disrespected and that you won’t stay in this conversation while they are being unkind. You must be clear about what is taking place, then do what you’ve said and remove yourself from the situation.

You can certainly communicate privately to your spouse about what is going on, but in the end, he or she must be the one to discipline the children for bad behavior.

If you would like help in the area of a blended family and stepchildren, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

Blended and Blessed: Keys to Stepfamily Success

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Blended and Blessed is a FREE one-day livestream by Family Life for stepfamily couples, single parents, dating couples with kids, and those who care about blended families.

Hosted by CornerStone Family Services and Delaware Christian Church on April 29, 2017 at the church facility (2280 W. William St., Delaware, OH 43015).

Childcare will be provided for $15/kid. Lunch will be a potluck to be shared.

Contact Carrie Hover LPC at 614-459-3003 ext 703 or chover@cstoneohio.org for more information

A Matter of Perspective: The difference between premarried hope and stepfamily reality.

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A Matter of Perspective

The difference between premarried hope and stepfamily reality.
By Ron L. Deal
For years, dating couples with children from previous relationships and married couples in blended families have had polar opposite reactions to my books. Why? Because they have different perspectives.

Dating couples moan, “Gee, Ron, are you trying to scare us out of getting married?” while married stepfamily couples marvel, “You are describing our life exactly! Have you been peeking in our windows?”

The dating couple feels like I’m being negative; the married couple is relieved that someone finally told them they are normal. And when I have tracked a couple from dating to marriage, their response transformed to, “We just thought you were being a pessimist,” or “We wish we would have listened to you better.”

How could perspective make such a huge difference? Well, premarital couples have high hopes, are consumed by the fog of love, and expect positive things to happen; it’s the nature of being in love. Married couples, on the other hand, are living in an actual stepfamily. They cannot gloss over the challenges. It’s the difference between expectation and reality.

The research that David Olson and I did for The Remarriage Checkup explained and validated the perspective shift. We discovered that couple satisfaction during dating is highly correlated with the couple’s relationship. However, marital satisfaction (i.e., once the couple is living in a stepfamily) is increasingly correlated with stepfamily and stepparenting dynamics that surround the couple’s relationship. As the context of their relationship changes, so does their satisfaction—and their perspective.

For the full article, go to the original article.

If you would like help with your marriage, blended marriage, and life in a stepfamily, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.

A Roadmap to Harmony in Your Blended Marriage

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roadmap

A Roadmap to Harmony in Your Blended Marriage

By Ron L. Deal

Stepfamilies naturally foster a lot of frustration. And sometimes, just the simple events of everyday life can create hurt feelings and anger that send families down the road to isolation.  But there is an exit off that road that leads to Harmony Street!

In stepfamily marriages, the road to marital isolation often begins in the land of parenting. Here’s a glance at one stepfamily home and some of the mile markers that you may find if your relationship is headed down the same path.

Mile Marker 1: the one-sided tradition. Fourteen-year-old Kari has made cupcakes for her younger brother’s birthday. It is a valued ritual she started when he was very young. Big sister makes the cupcakes, and the two of them eat them warm out of the oven—while leaving the kitchen a mess.

Mile Marker 2: the rub. Kari’s stepmother of two years, Sara, walks into the kitchen after returning home from an errand. She happens to enter the kitchen just as her husband, Kari’s father, comes in.

Upon discovering the mess, Sara gives her husband, Randy, “the look.” Randy knows exactly what she is saying and feeling. Annoyed that the kitchen was not cleaned up right away, Sara is nonverbally asking Randy—again—to get his daughter to clean up after herself.

Randy is aware that Sara basically views Kari as irresponsible. Sara has been confrontational with Kari about this in the past.

Randy views Kari as fun-loving, a good big sister, and in need of encouragement.Besides, what’s the big deal with the kitchen anyway?

Randy views Sara as negative and too controlling of his kids.

Sara views Randy as too permissive.

Mile Marker 3: choosing sides. In response to “the look” Randy speaks not to Kari, but to his wife, Sara. He fears that if Sara aggressively confronts his daughter she will inadvertently shoot herself in the foot, making acceptance by Kari all the more difficult, so he tries to detour Sara’s complaint. “Oh come on–it’s not a big deal. Besides, I’m sure you want one of those cupcakes, right?”

Sara instantly feels unheard, minimized, and unimportant. Her concerns that Kari will not learn responsibility have been ignored, which is frustrating. And Randy doesn’t realize that Sara is fearful that Kari’s feelings matter more to Randy than she does. This touches a deep bruise on Sara’s heart: being unimportant to the man she loves. She felt this growing up from her father and her first husband who left her. In her fear and frustration she reacts with anger and accusation. “You are afraid of punishing or expecting anything from her—and what I want has no value to you at all.”

Mile Marker 4: identifying your spouse as the enemy. Randy feels frustrated that Sara can’t let the dirty kitchen go. So his belief that Sara is a rigid, authoritarian parent is solidified. But even more, he feels controlled. “Sara is resorting to the same type of guilt and manipulation my parents give each other,” he shares with a friend. “She uses guilt as leverage and I really think it’s unfair.”

Determined not to make his kids go through what he endured from his parents as a child, Randy defends Kari and argues with Sara pointing out how wonderful it is that a big sister would make cupcakes for her brother. Over time, Randy and Sara argue repeatedly over parenting situations like this. In no time, not only are they polarized as parents, but they find themselves many miles down the highway of isolation and fear.

Harmony Street exit

Many things must change in order for Randy and Sara to save their marriage—and raise the likelihood that their home achieves family harmony. Here are some key aspects to exiting the road to isolation:

For the keys to exiting onto Harmony Street, please go to the original article located at Family Life.

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If you would like help with your blended marriage, please give CornerStone Family Services a call at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.