Are you a new step parent who wants to get it right?
Here are top tips for getting your relationship with your step children off to a great start.
At a glance
- Experts recommend building solid bonds before becoming the disciplinarian
- Try not to recreate a family dynamic - create a new one
- It will take time, don't try to rush things
Fiction is full of stories of evil stepmothers – broomstick brandishing bullies who are out to make life a misery for their poor, unsuspecting stepchildren.
But in reality, many new step families form wonderful new attachments that grow over time into a deep love.
By treading carefully and keeping lines of communication open from the outset, you can form a special family bond.
Define your role
Make sure you tread carefully. Many experts recommend you start off as friend or counsellor, rather than a disciplinarian – that can wait until you’ve developed solid bonds with the children. Make sure your stepchildren know you’re not a ‘replacement’ mum or dad, but another person to love and support them.
Take your time
Don't expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight – spend time getting to know them. If you think about it, love and affection takes time to develop in any relationship.
Limit your expectations
You may invest a lot of time, energy, love and affection into your new partner’s children, and get nothing back. But think of it as making lots of small, kind investments that may one day bring a lot of love.
It’s quite normal to feel anxious about how you compare to a child’s natural parent. And if you’re feeling pretty unloved, don’t take it personally – children just don’t know yet what it’ll be like sharing their parent with a new spouse.
When a parent has died, a remarriage can trigger unfinished grieving. No matter how lovely you are with your stepchildren, it can force a little kid to accept their cherished parent isn’t coming back. So give them space and time to grieve.
Coming to terms with a new parent
If children have spent a long time in a one-parent family, or they still secretly nurture hopes of reconciling their parents, it may be really hard for them to accept a new person. Again, it’s not personal – just give them time.
If you’ve never been a parent before, dealing with troubled children is quite a crash course in parenting! The best thing is to talk to your partner, get advice and read up on parenting. You can also find much-needed support from a local step-parenting support organisation in your community.
If you both have children and are merging your families, agree with your new partner how you’re going to parent together, and gradually introduce tweaks before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and the children won’t become angry at the ‘evil stepmother’ for initiating changes.
Create a brand new family
It’s best not to replicate your first family - embrace your differences and decide together how this new family is going to work.
Agree a list of family rules
Why not agree new rules with the children and post them somewhere everyone can see them – a gentle steer for the new family. You can include silly rules too - like the ice-cream every Saturday rule!
It’s an easy mistake to make, but don’t overcompensate by favouring your stepchildren. Just make sure you’re fair and consistent with everyone. Giving all the children quiet 1-2-1 time with their biological parents works a treat too, reminding them how brilliant and loved they are.
Emotions can run high in a new family, and the answer is to talk, talk, talk – get everything out in the open and solve problems together.