Stepfamilies have the difficult task of integrating all the new members into a working unit and adjusting to all the new boundaries and rules. While it can be challenging, there are ways to have a successful transition.
Establishing a new family takes time. It is unrealistic to think that every member of the new family will automatically love everyone else. While it can be difficult to accept, not everyone in the blended family is ready for a relationship with everyone else. If it’s a part-time stepfamily, a longer adjustment period is needed, as you have less time to get to know one another. Be patient.
It takes time for children in a step-family to regain their emotional bearings. It is important that adults manage their own emotional recovery so that they can help the children to adjust. Expect that, in time, they will adjust. All children experience a difficult adjustment period in a time like this.
Don’t expect that your new family will be like any family you’ve experienced before. Your new family will have its own unique identity and evolves in its own way. To expect something that you’ve experienced before will only set you up for frustration. Be prepared to expect confusion. Forming a stepfamily can be extremely confusing, especially for a child. All of the new family members must learn to understand the new structure and learn how to accept their new boundaries.
All stepfamilies begin with some experience of loss. The losses of the adults in the family are not the same as the losses for the children, and both must be respected and time must be given for grieving. While adults grieve for the loss of a partner or marriage relationship, the dreams of the way they thought their life could be, and the changes they must now adjust to, children’s losses are often harder for them to adjust to. They may be grieving the loss of a parent, the lack of stability in their new situation, the time they’re losing as parents begin to date and remarry, and they’ve lost the fantasy of how their lives were and how they wanted their family to be. When parents are hostile to one another, children have a difficult time resolving their grief. This is also true when a parent remarries, or when they have trouble accepting the new stepparents.
The absent parent must be acknowledged. Children who have access to both their parents in a divorce adjust the best to the situation. They should be allowed to speak to, visit, and write to their parent. They should be allowed to have memories of this parent (this is especially true in cases where the absent parent has died). They are just as much a part of the child’s past as their stepparent is a part of their future.
Children of stepfamilies often belong to two households. Naturally, they have questions about where they fit in. They can, and are usually able to adjust to having two sets of rules and two sets of parents as long as they are not asked to choose which is better. Rules should be made clear. All parents should discuss family rules and what should happen if the rules are broken. The most successful stepfamilies know that the rules should be decided together in the beginning and the biological parents should be the one to explain and discipline. Stepparents can be more involved in this process once a relationship with the stepchildren has been established. When parents agree and can be flexible and cooperative, this is easiest to acheive.
Children should be given their own space, even if they do not live with the parent. Creating a room or a portion of a room made solely for visiting children will help them feel like part of the family.
Above all else, while making the adjustment to a stepfamily, children need to be reminded that they are loved. They need love the most when it is the most difficult time to give it to them.