Ten years ago, I met the man I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with . . . I just needed to convince him. I kid, I kid. All joking aside, it’s a pretty big deal dating when you have a child; you suddenly have to think about more than just yourself when selecting a partner. Getting swept off your feet is harder when you have to stay grounded for a little person who relies on you. But sweeping he did and luckily for me, he was fully prepared for the task ahead.
I will never forget when Joe came to me and said “We need to talk. Now that you and Isaac are living here, we should probably discuss some things that need to change.” I braced myself thinking he was going to tell me everything I was doing wrong as a mother and what I needed to work on with my son, but the conversation went far differently. He told me that he was making changes in his bachelor lifestyle and going to work on certain characteristics of himself to be a better influence around my son. He recognized my son already had a dad and his role would be different.
Every stepfamily forms differently. I grew up in a blended family and took in my stepdad as “Dad” immediately. It’s what I needed. My dad had two children and my mom had me. Together they had one more. I never thought of my step siblings or my half brother as anything other than just my brothers and sister. Our parents introduced us in a way that immediately blended our families and it was just the new normal. What worked for them doesn’t work for everyone, though. I remember as a scared 5-year-old feeling jealous of the presents my mom was taking these new children on our first visit to meet, but we all became fast friends and instant siblings.
So how can you blend your families together, and what should you discuss before making the move into being a stepfamily?
- Education: Fears and insecurities. The biological parent may have some fears, but it’s safe to say the new stepparent will have a lot! Consider buying some step-parenting books or taking a class.
- Routines: Understand that this new family will not function like your single life or old family. Take time and openly discuss things so they don’t cause drastic upset. Make your partner aware of routines and hard limit requirements you and/or your child have.
- Loss: Recognize this can be difficult on the children. They may feel loss and fear change.
- Discipline: How will discipline be handled? Will the stepparent have limitations for discipline?
- Chores: Who will take over what duties? As more people come together, chores or responsibilities may also change.
- Expectations: What will be expected of the children? Make sure they understand their place is important in the newly blended family.
- Outsider: Acknowledge that in the beginning, until everyone settles and gets comfortable, the stepparent may feel like an outsider to the parent-child relationship.
- Ex-Spouse: How does the ex fit in? Avoid any negative talk about the child’s other biological parent and find a balance for the relationship.
- Holidays: Sometimes holidays can cause a rift in newly blended families. Try to discuss traditions and events to attend in advance to hash out expectations and find out what kind of new traditions you can create together.
- Bonding: Create opportunities to bond. Of course the new husband and wife love each other, but love between a child and stepparent may take more time. Talk about ways you can encourage your spouse and child to spend time together or activities and interests they share.
- Date Nights: How much alone time will the adults have together? When will you set aside time for the biological parent and child? Try to commit to dates and alone time to keep individual relationships strong as well.
If you are an established stepfamily, what tips can you share to help others hoping to blend their family?