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Step Up To The Challenges Of Stepfamilies!
I share my golden rules for making a success of your stepfamily
I can remember how nerve-racking it was when I introduced the man who eventually became my second husband to my children. After my divorce it seemed like a daunting mountain to climb even contemplating creating a stepfamily. Thirteen and a half years on we've never looked back. Despite the ups and downs I wouldn't for a minute change what we've created in our stepfamily.
But I've also been a step-mum when I married my much-older first husband who already had two teenage children. I walked a tight rope trying to be patient and loving but also drawing boundaries on some of their initially "testing" behaviour towards me.
When I read of celebrity couples mix-and-matching their children from previous marriages I do so with feelings of caution. Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger are seemingly successful examples, where all concerned at least play at happy families. But Paul McCartney’s and Heather Mills’ experience probably paints a more realistic picture. That’s because statistically stepfamilies break-up at twice the rate of first-time-around families.
This has nothing to do with the myth of the wicked stepmother or cold stepfather playing itself out across the land. But reflects the obvious pressures that go hand-in-hand with throwing sometimes-fractured families together often with unrealistic expectations of the happiness they can achieve. It’s hard enough first time around to meet everyone’s needs!
Here are the golden rules for giving you the best chance to form a happy stepfamily:
Rule No. 1 - Take It Slowly!
You may be overwhelmed with feelings of love and passion and want to rush down the aisle but don't rush your new love into your children's lives. Begin by mentioning that you're seeing someone that you like. Treat it matter-of-factly and don't make it a big deal. That way you're less likely to provoke anxiety in your children.
Rule No. 2 - Choose The Right Time!
Don't avoid the subject of introductions and instead talk through with your new partner about when’s the best time to introduce him/her. Don't ambush your children, e.g., and have them arrive home from school one day to find your new lover’s sitting there. Instead sound them out about whether they'd like your new partner to come over for tea or all go out for a film together, etc. Let your children guide this discussion.
Rule No. 3 - Love Doesn't Happen Overnight!
Don't expect your children - or your new partner - to fall “in love” with each other immediately. It takes time to lay a solid foundation. If your partner complains that your children don't seem to care explain that feelings take time to develop. Particularly if they don't have children themselves they may expect an instant bond.
Rule No. 4 - Respect The Past!
If you're a new partner have the common sense to realise that the family you’re entering has a past. This will be full of their own traditions and ways of doing things. Only slowly and tactfully introduce the way you like to do things and this is done best by compromise.
Rule No. 5 - Shared Interests!
Early on discover any shared interests and then pursue them together. A fantastic way of bonding in a stepfamily is to do find things that the children and new partner enjoy together.
Rule No. 6 - Relax And Enjoy!
One of the most important things in creating a happy stepfamily is to enjoy each other's company. To do so you need to relax about the small stuff and simply get to know each other.
Rule No. 7 - Set Your Boundaries!
Particularly if entering a tricky situation after an unhappy divorce you need to have patience with your new stepchildren. That said, you and your partner should agree the boundaries to be set on any bad or testing behaviour. Present a united front and stick to these boundaries with unacceptable behaviour.
Rule No. 8 - Don't Inadvertently Shut Children Out!
It's all too easy in the new flush of love to focus all your attention on your new partner. Your children may feel shut out quite easily. Ensure you give equal attention to them. It made feel like a juggling act but it's well worth the effort.
Rule No. 9 - Never Compare!
Your new partner may find it hard settling into your routine and doing things the way your family’s used to. Resist making any comparisons to your ex along the lines of, "even my ex knew that the children never bother with bath time on Saturday evenings."
Rule No. 10 - Regular "Meetings"!
Make a point of sitting down together as a stepfamily every couple of weeks just to sound out how everyone’s feeling. Give everyone a chance to talk. Make these times together feel safe and secure and that family members feel loved. This way differences can be aired and solutions found.
Finally, every family has its challenges and crises. These can feel more difficult and emotionally challenging within a stepfamily. But if you take a deep breath and a moment to calm down, realise the good things you’ve got and emphasise those, you can get through.
Useful contacts - Parentline Plus helpline - 0808-800-2222
Published in the Express Newspaper
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