Families are amazing and diverse social structures. Even traditional structures come with their normal challenges and joys. No matter what, biological children will get along and fight. And it’s up to you, as parents, to help them love and accept each other as they grow.
The same goes for remarriage and stepfamilies. And if you and your new spouse have your own children, you need to bring everyone together.
Here are eight tips to create a cohesive and connected family unit that enjoys a mutual life together.
It’s Going to Be Hard and That’s Okay
You may miss being a single parent. You may miss having time with your own kid. You may not want to share your attention with other children now. You’re not alone.
These are all natural and normal feelings for new family members. So, don’t be hard on yourself when these emotions rise to the surface.
Allow it, accept it, and be honest about it.
This will allow you to be compassionate with both yourself and everyone involved. Chances are, everyone is feeling this way, too.
Change is inevitable and hard, but try to be open to it. Not only has your entire life changed, but so has the life of your new spouse and all the children.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Some Help
Normal marriages often need the wisdom and support of a counselor or coach. So, don’t be surprised or ashamed if your new stepfamily needs some professional guidance, too.
You’ll probably benefit from this objective input. Plus, it can bring a fresh perspective to your old expectations, behavior, and beliefs.
Cope with Comparison
It’s easy to compare your new stepfamily with your original family. You may feel sadness, resentment or anger. Your kids may experience this emotional turmoil, too. Children might also feel very torn when it comes to their new parent and siblings.
On the one hand, they want to love and accept their new family. But then, they may worry that by doing so, they’re betraying their first family and letting them down.
This is where you can come in.
Let them know that it’s okay to love both families and that you won’t be angry or disappointed with them if they love their other parent, too. Instead, let them know how proud you are of them, and how mature it is for them to love and accept their new life.
Another way you can support your child in accepting and loving both families is to do that yourself. You teach by example. So, try to have respectful and kind interactions with the ex-spouses whenever possible. By doing so, you show your children that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
When you or your child compare your new family structure with the older one, there might be some gossip or hurtful comments. Try to keep this to a minimal. Such conversations will only break down your new family, instead of bringing everyone together.
Learning to Be Loyal
What happens when your child doesn’t like your new spouse or step-siblings?
Maybe she doesn’t like how they behave or treat her. She may expect you to side with her in her frustration. And if you don’t, your child may perceive you as being disloyal. It might look like you’re against her. This is a difficult situation for any step parent to find themselves in. What’s a mother or father to do?
For one thing, your child may be right. Ask yourself if your new spouse and stepchildren aren’t behaving as they should. If so, and before this becomes a source of resentment, try to speak privately to your spouse about everything.
If possible, try not to include your child’s comments and concerns. Let this communication come from you first. Otherwise, your spouse might become defensive if he feels like he’s being attacked.
If you believe your spouse’s behavior and attitude isn’t the problem, ask yourself if your child is feeling confused, sensitive and hurt. These feelings are completely natural and normal, and you can help.
Validate your child’s emotional experience without judgment, and then, help your child acclimate to all the changes occurring in his life with good coping mechanisms.
With a new parent and stepsiblings, you and your child may feel like they don’t have their own space anymore. Their home used to be their safety net. But now, they may feel very exposed and vulnerable.
So, while falling into a new family routine, ensure that each family member has opportunities for privacy and downtime. This can help them process the transition. It can also help them feel less overwhelmed with their new lifestyle.
How to Discipline without Favoritism
At first, always try to be the one to discipline your own child. If the new spouse becomes an authority figure to soon, he or she might face lots of resentment and resistance.
Instead, let your new spouse develop fun and loving friendship with your child first. If they can develop a friendship first, they can develop a trusting relationship. This can make room for discipline down the road.
You can also speak privately to your spouse to discuss household rules and expectations. When you’ve both come to a mutual agreement, bring your decision to your children as a united couple. This will help your children see that you’re both making decisions for everyone. And that there isn’t bias or favoritism.
Instead, everyone’s on the same page.
Spend Time with Family and Friends
Make time to enjoy events and hobbies with your friends and family. This can really help to break the tension and help people open up to each other.
Let Your Child Spend Time with Her New Parent and Siblings
It’s a big adjustment to share yourself with new family members. A great way to connect everyone is to let your children spend time alone with their new parent or new siblings.
Letting them spend time with a family member who isn’t you helps them redefine “family”. Before, family only meant you. Now, the family can include you, your spouse and their new siblings.
As a stepparent, your new married life is going to be a challenging transition. Not just for you, but for everyone involved. Take time to understand these challenges and to seek help whenever necessary.
This way, you and your new family can grow together and enjoy many years in love and friendship.