How To Make the Best Out of Being a Stepparent

Being a stepparent is a gift, although often one that’s hard-earned. Let’s face it, you’re coming into an already established family dynamic and even with the best of intentions, there will be some challenges and adjustments. But it will certainly be worth it; and in honor of the recent National Stepfamily Day, we’d like to help you rise to the occasion. Check out these tips on making the best out of being a stepparent.

Blended Family Facts

A blended family or stepfamily is created when you and your significant other marry or live together, making a life with the children from one or both of your previous relationships. This is actually more common than you may realize as, according to the Pew Research Center, one in six kids is living with a stepparent, stepsibling or half-sibling. Some of your favorite celebrities are also well-known for making their blended families work. 

Jada Pinkett Smith shares this sentiment about her stepson Trey, “You are not only my bonus son, but my friend. Thank you for the many ways you have held my hand through the years. I’m learning every day how to hold yours in the many different ways that you need.” 

Matt Damon describes his blended family, “I jumped into the deep end with Lucy. I mean, Alexia was already four. I was an extra dad. …The only way I can describe it — it sounds stupid, but — at the end of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, you know how his heart grows, like, five times its size? Everything is full; it’s just full all the time.”

Catherine Zeta Jones’ stepson Cameron Douglas describes the impact of her love and support, “Thank you so much Catherine! There are no words to express what your Love and support has meant to me over the years; you are truly amazing, and I Love you with all my heart!”

Luke Bryan and his wife created yet another type of blended family when they took in their nieces and nephew after his sister died, “Obviously my nieces and nephew, they didn’t ask for this. You don’t want to sound like you love having them so much that you’re glad it’s the situation, but we’re honored to be doing what we feel was the right thing.”

Common Challenges for Stepparents

As you might imagine younger kids tend to adjust easier to blended families and children ages 10 to 15 tend to have the most difficulty adjusting because of challenges that include:

  • Lack of parental experience – This may be the first time you or your significant other has been a parent before and that lack of experience in and of itself can be a challenge.
  • Differences in parenting styles and discipline – You may be stricter with rules, chores and discipline than your stepchild(ren) may be used to, for example.
  • Age differences – This could be between the stepchildren themselves or between the stepparent and stepchild. As far as the children go, too much age difference can make it hard to connect whereas too little age difference can create jealousy and competitiveness. In other cases, one stepparent may be close in age to the child which can be awkward at first.
  • Changes in family structure – Perhaps your daughter was previously the only girl or your son was the oldest. If now that’s no longer the case, they may struggle with that change.
  • Changes in family traditions – You and your significant other may celebrate holidays and birthdays very differently which can be difficult for the child(ren) particularly if they feel they have to forgo traditions that were meaningful to them.
  • Difficulty in accepting the new reality – Not just in accepting you as their stepparent, but the child(ren) may also have trouble accepting the additional complications of custody arrangements and the needs of their new stepsiblings.

Tips for Stepparents

Certainly, each family and each set of circumstances is different, so there’s no surefire set of rules to ensure you and your stepchild(ren) will have a healthy, loving relationship. But these tips can help put you on the best path:

  • Be clear with boundaries – From the get-go. You and your significant other should make sure you’re on the same page about roles, rules, discipline, and so on then make sure it’s communicated to the child(ren).
  • All parents should work together – Granted, this is easier said than done in a divorce situation especially, but the child(ren) needs to know that their biological parents still love them (and always will) and that their new stepparent is not a replacement for either of them.
  • Keep the lines of communication open – The better you communicate, the less chance there is for miscommunication and for conflict to fester. Put the child(ren) first, put a plan in place as to how and what needs to be communicated, and always be respectful to each other.
  • Don’t play favorites – Whether it’s with your own child(ren) or by overcompensating with your stepchild(ren). This will only create resentment and distrust across the family.
  • Give it time – Families don’t ‘blend’ overnight and it won’t help to push it. Be patient and let the child(ren) set the pace, but make sure your stepchild(ren) knows you’re interested in connecting and getting to know them.

There will be some rough patches and that’s OK, but if after time and your best efforts, you still feel like you’re not making any progress, don’t be afraid to seek help.  Reach out to friends, family, a support group, or a family counselor. If there are specific co-parenting issues, you might even consider mediation in which a neutral third party helps you to work together to reach an amicable agreement which can be easier on the child(ren) than going to court.

For additional information on how WhitsonLaw, PLLC. can help you, contact today to learn more.

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