Step by Step

There are no rule books for being a step-parent and few of us have any idea where to start. Yet blended families are becoming much more common as people choose to get married for a second, or even third time.

It’s nice that you’ve found love again. Really nice. But you probably didn’t expect your new relationship to involve absorbing some other newcomers into your life, namely his or her kids. When you suddenly find yourself in a house full of kids you’ve just met, you may feel you’ve come a long way from that romantic dinner a few months ago. Here are some tips to help you cope when you’re in the step-family way:

  • Make sure your relationship is all it should be before you consider combining children. No matter which way you slice the blended family cake, your relationship is about to be sorely tested. So be sure you are both committed, strong and determined to make it work. otherwise you risk putting the children through unnecessary stress if it doesn’t work out.

  • Be sure the kids are ready to handle your relationship. Some children remain deeply traumatised after the break-up of their parents’ marriage, while others roll with the punches and adapt relatively quickly. If you sense that any of the children involved need more time, let them have it. There’s no rush.

  • Introduce everyone slowly and casually. No serious dinners and speeches are on the agenda here. Fun, family activities are a good start, allowing everyone to get to know each other in a relaxed setting.

  • Remind yourself several times a day that you are the adult here. Petty jealousies, problems with the ex-partners, conflict with each other’s kids – maybe even not really liking his kids much – are all things to be overcome, not things to moan about and allow to blossom into problems. Take each hurdle as it comes, deal with it and move through it. And realise that, as far as families go, the kids come first.

  • Realise that all families have conflict. Even normal, non-blended families have siblings who don’t get on and behavioural issues. That is what being a family is all about, it’s not because you are blended. once you understand that, it all seems a lot easier.

  • Put the effort in, even when you are too tired or can’t be bothered, because the kids won’t be there forever but your relationship (hopefully) will. It might seem like hard work now but 20 years down the track you’ll have a wonderful united family as a result of what you have put into it today.

  • Don’t expect your children to behave if they have two different sets of rules. If one set of children is allowed to watch a TV programme and the other set isn’t, then expect mayhem. Remember, you are the adults – make a set of rules you can both live by and keep to them when disciplining and setting boundaries for your new family. It doesn’t matter if the kids have different rules at their other parents’ houses, the important thing is that in your house, the same rules apply.

  • For the same reason, sort out spending. In your house each child should receive birthday and Christmas presents of the same value and have similar amounts spent on clothing, etc. If not, you can expect some deep-seated anger to come welling up from those who are missing out.

  • Remember to protect your relationship. Factor in some time each week when there are no blended family issues going on – perhaps when all the kids are with their other parents – so you can return to that brief moment when you fell in love, just the two of you. Your family is only as strong as the relationship the two of you have, so make sure you keep it well fed and watered!

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