All families have to work at living in harmony. Blended families have to try particularly hard. Stepparents rarely feel the same bond with a stepchild that they do with their natural children. Adjusting to life in a blended family requires much commitment, patience, and understanding.
Parents may have an easier time if they understand their child’s point of view. Because he’s still adjusting to his parents’ divorce,
he may fear attachment to another adult who might leave. He also may worry about losing the love and attention of his newly married parent, seeing the stepparent as an intruder and rival.
When a stepparent joins a family, many rituals and routines change, and a young child can find this upsetting and confusing. The stepparent is another authority figure, and a young child will react to new or different rules and restrictions. “Why do I have to go to bed now? You’re not my mom.”
A child who resents a stepparent may act on his feelings in a number of ways. He may be intentionally uncooperative and belligerent, fantasizing that his actions will bring his natural parents together again.
He may use his stepparent as a target for his frustration and anger: “It’s never fun going to dinner anymore because of Ellen.”
Another complication in blended families is the presence of stepsiblings. In a blended family, kids are thrown together with new siblings and forced to play, share possessions and perhaps even a bedroom, and compete for attention from parents. It’s natural that stepsiblings get upset over perceived unfairness. And if the parents in a remarriage have different discipline standards, stepsiblings will argue about who has to listen to which adult.
In spite of the difficulties, blended families can succeed. To help your family during its adjustment, look for stepfamily support groups in your area. They offer an opportunity to talk about concerns, hear tips on getting along, and listen to other families’ experiences. You also might consider using a therapist to help improve your family’s relationships.
If you’re a stepparent, be patient as you get to know your stepchild. Take an interest in his activities. Don’t create or enforce rules unless you have a good relationship with him, and don’t try to replace his absent natural parent. If he rejects you, look for possible openings. Will he let you help with a puzzle? Play a game? Can you play ball, cook, plant a garden, sing, or read together?
If you’re the natural parent, spend time alone with your child, reinforcing your relationship. Praise him if he tries to get along with his stepfamily: “I know it’s hard sometimes.” Remind your child often that disrespectful behavior is not acceptable. Take on the role of disciplinarian for him, rather than leaving that responsibility to your new spouse.
Be sensitive to the difficulty stepsiblings have with their arrangements. It takes time for kids to adjust to each other. As they get older, sometimes ask them for suggestions about getting along and dealing with conflicts.
As you adjust to your blended family, it’s important that your marriage remain loving and stable. Remarriages are often difficult, and stepfamily tension coupled with everyday stress can be very disruptive. If you put time and effort into your relationship with your spouse, you’ll not only strengthen the bonds of your marriage, but your bonds with your child as well. When he sees that you love and enjoy each other, he’ll gradually learn to accept his situation.