The U.S. statistic for divorce is now up to 60%. If a couple has a child when they divorce, and one of the ex-spouses decides to remarry, this creates a stepfamily. Stepfamilies are more common now than ever, and one-third of all children will be a part of a stepfamily before the age of 18. Obviously this is going to create a lot of unique family dynamics. It’s a time of anxiety, anger, confusion and sometimes panic for both the parent and the child. Depending upon how long it’s been since the announcement of the divorce between the child’s biological parents, the child may still be dealing with, or just settled into the feelings that divorce creates for them. Now, throw into the mix another parent (or two) and siblings! Hopefully this article will help you know what to expect from your child, how to be a team with your spouse, and what to do if the blended family isn’t getting along.
First of all, be realistic. Things are not going to change overnight. Secondly, be patient. Relationships take a lot of time to grow and for trust to be created and established. Kids need time as well to learn that they can trust and count on adults, especially when there are major life changes occurring. Limit your expectations. You may not get a lot of love, attention or affection back from your child in response to all of the love, energy, affection and time you are putting into them. Don’t take it personally. This is a normal adjustment period that takes time. Think of it as planting seeds that will eventually take root and grow into a beautiful plant.
Children of every age have basic needs & wants. It may be hard to see this if you’re having a hard time getting along with your spouse’s children. It’s easy to get caught up in their misbehavior or back-talk. But, underneath that disrespectful behavior is a need that may not be heard. They’re not automatically going to love you, and you may not automatically love them. Children especially need to feel:
- Safe & secure- to know they can count on you no matter what.
- Loved- to not only hear that you love them, but to feel it and see it from you as well.
- Seen, validated & heard- to know you do listen to them, to know you recognize their needs when you make family decisions. They need to know you can see a situation from their view and take their perspective into account.
- Appreciated & encouraged- to hear praise and appreciation for what they do to help the family.
- Limits & boundaries- a lack of boundaries sends the unspoken message that they as a child are not worth your time or attention.
Children divide and conquer parents, and the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to let all parents involved know what is going on at all times. Children also need access to both biological parents. Let your child know that you and your ex-spouse will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their life & that their stepparent is not a ‘replacement’ parent but another person to love and support them. You and your ex-spouse need to agree that you love your child more than you hate the other, so no matter what, you will not criticize or bad-mouth the other in front of your child. This only kills the spirit of your child and works in the opposite direction of whatever you’re trying to achieve.
Create clear, safe boundaries in your stepfamily. Each couple should discuss the role each stepparent will play in raising their respective children, along with household rules. It’s very important to do this at the beginning, because it’s harder to do it later! You may want to keep the stepparent as more of a friend or counselor than a disciplinarian until they have developed a more solid bond with the children. Create a list of family rules. Call a family meeting and discuss the list with the kids and keep the list in an area where they can be easily read. This can help relieve any tension in the house. Try to talk with the other residence that the child is also living in and have similar rules so as to create consistency if possible (bedtimes, chore lists, computer time etc…). Do not contradict your spouse in front of the children. The two of you need to privately set the rules for the kids. If you have to work out an adjustment or exception to the rules, do it in private, and have a really good reason for doing so. If they see you contradicting each other, then they will learn how to split and play you against each other.
All in all, you need to keep communication open to avoid any misunderstandings and to create more possibilities for connection. Despite all of your efforts though, you may find that you or your new spouse and the children are not getting along. If one of the following occurs, it might be time to seek counseling:
- If one of the children directs anger upon any other family member or openly resents a parent or stepparent.
- You notice a stepparent favoring a child.
- You notice family members no longer enjoying activities they once enjoyed (going to school, playing, learning, or being with family or friends).
Imagine Hope Counseling Group can help you open up the lines of communication between individual members of your family. If you find yourself struggling to make your stepfamily transition flow smoothly, please give us a call at (317) 569-0046. We provide individual, marriage, family, & adolescent counseling for Indianapolis and the surrounding areas including Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Noblesville and Westfield. You my also visit our website at www.imaginehopecounseling.com.