Falling in love can be heaven on earth.
When you find love “the second time around” is no different. Not only do you appreciate having found each other, you’ve hopefully learned about yourselves as individuals and as partners from past experiences. You’ve recognized mistakes that you made in your first marriage, and now decide it’s time to take the leap and blend your families.
Now you’re a stepparent.
You may have had some concerns prior to saying ‘I do” as you watched your partner with their children, or with yours. You may have noticed that they allowed their children to do stuff that you’d never allow your children to do, or the opposite. The two of you talked about it, and agreed, “You parent your kids and I’ll parent mine.” So it’s didn’t seem to daunting that her eighteen year-old son had never had a job or hibernated in his room. Or that his fourteen year-old daughter was good in school and generally responsible, but was flippant and bossy at home.
How Long Does A Successful Blending Take and Why Is It Hard?
It seemed manageable. But pulling a blended family off can be hard work. Research shows that the norm for how much time it takes to for the family to feel bonded is much longer than most people think. Much longer — like 5 to 10 years.
Most new second wives and husbands don’t like it when they hear that statistic.
There are factual dynamics that influence the solidity of the relationship between stepchild and stepparent.
- The context of how everyone met.
- How long they’ve known each other.
- How old the children were when their parent’s divorce occurred.
- Whether or not it’s a second or third or fourth marriage (because there’s lots of alimony, child support, and ex’s in general).
- How amicable the divorce of the child’s biological parent was. Or is.
And there are others. So, it can be complicated. If you’re pulling it off, then congratulate yourself. You’re working hard and making something work that’s emotionally and often pragmatically difficult. And those kudos go to stepparents, ex’s and kids alike.
There are things that can be done to try to ensure the relationship between stepparent and stepchild is healthy and rewarding. And there are some common mistakes that you, with the very best of intentions, can make.
Here are four very common mistakes…
1) Jumping in too fast as an authority.
If you and your new spouse dated for quite a while and let the children get to know you, then step-parenting can be smooth sailing. What’s quite a while? Years. Children, especially younger ones, will usually welcome a new adult who wants to love them into their world. However, many adults rush the process, only giving their kids a few weeks or months to make the life-altering transition from “me and your mom” to “me and your new mom.”
If you jump in too fast as an authority, you set yourself up for a struggle, even failure. You’re suddenly there in the home. But you haven’t earned the respect that goes along with being an authority figure. You don’t have that child’s trust, simply because his mother or father loves you. You have to wait.
Give your opinion to the biological parent while not putting up with disrespect. Work on developing a relationship. As much as you might care about the child, the healthiest thing to do is support the person you love.
2) Seeing the kids as an extension of the ex.
They may look like the ex. They may have character traits of the ex. They might even be parroting things the ex says, “I bet she told her to say that to me.” Or, “The only reason he’s doing that is because his mother hates me, and he knows it.” Sadly, it could be true. The child may have heard the ex talking about you.
However, they are individuals in their own right, not miniature versions of the ex nor their messengers. They may be stuck in the middle of an ugly adult situation that they didn’t choose, and you’ll only make it worse by not understanding how difficult that may be for them.
Try to make it easier by not putting them in the middle. Be yourself, be kind and loving and accepting, and give them the opportunity to see the real you. Eventually they will figure out that you’re a positive addition to their life.
3) Blaming the kids for disagreements with your partner about their parenting style.
You always put your kids to bed by having a set time every night. The light is turned off, prayers are said, kisses and out you go. Your new spouse, on the other hand, doesn’t have a set bedtime. It could be 8 one night, 9 the next. He believes that there should be some time that they have to just relax and be on their cell phones or get some last minute studying done. Then, if they want, a little talking or reading, Then lights out. It’s all kind of spontaneous.
You decide that his kids are spoiled and needy. He tells you that you have a rigid, old school approach.
You obviously have different parenting styles. It’s best to leave the kids out of it; try to decide how you are going to respect each other, now that you’re one family.
That can take some adjusting to decide how this new combined family is going to tackle things.
4) Discounting the impact of an affair.
If you had an affair with the new stepparent, you’re likely to say, “Oh, the kids will be great. They’ll have no trouble accepting Jane (or John)”. You’ll want to minimize in your own mind the difficulty of divorce on a family — as well as the feelings of not just grief but replacement that your ex has had to deal with. If you marry, and especially quickly marry, the person that you had an affair with during your marriage, realize that it may take a fair amount of time for your family to accept him or her.
On a happier note, I’ve talked with many people through the years who’ve told me that it was a stepparent who made their life complete — who walked them down the aisle when their own biological father had abandoned them long ago, whether literally or emotionally — or who sat and listened to them because their biological mother wasn’t nearly as understanding or empathic. There are others who just clicked with their stepparent, and they became very close friends as time went on.
Being a stepparent is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. And one of the most vital, because the effects are long-lasting for everyone involved.
Stepparents can be awesome — because their love of you is a choice.
And there may be no more important gift to give.
If you’ve enjoyed a wonderful partner in your relationship, you might want to thank them in a small way. Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” a gift book by Dr. Margaret!
You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly blog posts and podcasts!