Posted by Soribel Martínez, LCSW
Dating and remarriage can be an exciting time full of dreams for your future together. If you’ve experienced trying relationships in the past, you’re probably looking forward to a chance to start anew.
But if your new spouse has children from another relationship, starting anew can be a little trickier. This doesn’t mean that it won’t be as exciting or meaningful. It just means that you will have to be intentional about integrating yourself into this new family unit. If you plan ahead and think carefully about how you’ll build a relationship with your step kids, you’ll be more likely to get off on solid ground.
1. Don’t Rush It
No matter how long you dated your new partner and had time to get to know their kids, solidifying your relationship with marriage adds a new dimension for everyone. In your eagerness to take on your new role as a stepparent, it can be tempting to jump right in and assume more responsibilities.
This can backfire, though. Your stepchildren might not be as ready to embrace your role in their life as you are. Having a new adult take on a permanent place in their family constellation can be confusing.
For this reason, don’t come on too heavy with your new stepchildren. Ease into your relationship with them. Be kind and loving, but don’t expect to be besties overnight. Don’t try to force closeness.
2. Yield to Their Biological Parent
As mentioned, your stepchildren were accustomed to life with their biological parent. This was their established family unit. It was their home base.
Because children thrive on familiarity and routine, their world can experience a great deal of upheaval when their parent remarries. They’ll likely feel some amount of conflict about having you join the family. They may worry about if you’ll be overly strict or interfere with their time with their parent, your new spouse.
With this in mind, always look to their biological parent to set the tone with discipline or your stepchildren’s needs.
3. Don’t Try to Replace Their Other Parent
If your stepchildren split their time between two households, they have a lot on their plate. Transitioning back and forth between two different family groups and two different home environments can take a lot out of them.
You and your new spouse may not have the highest opinion of the kids’ other parent. Perhaps they’ve made some big mistakes or aren’t as present in your step kids’ lives as they should be.
Even though it can be hard to remember, don’t try to replace their other parent. Your stepchildren still need that other relationship, as imperfect as it may be. Don’t badmouth their other parent or try to show them up. This will only create conflicted, confused feelings.
If your stepchildren’s other parent is no longer in the picture, you may not need to worry about this as much. But you’ll still need to keep it in mind.
4. Love Them
No matter if they’re toddlers or high schoolers, all kids need love, support, encouragement, and healthy boundaries. You can model this behavior from the very beginning of your relationship with them and in your role as their stepparent.
Because your stepkids may feel you need to earn their trust and respect, you can do this by being a stable, calm presence. Show interest in what they’re interested in. Don’t take it too seriously when they don’t warm up to you immediately. Help their other parent and make all decisions in light of what’s best for the entire family unit.
With patience and planning, you can establish a meaningful relationship with your step kids.
Blending a family isn’t always easy. If you and your partner find yourselves struggling and running into roadblocks, family therapy may be a wise decision. Please contact my office to learn more about how family therapy can help you.
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Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy