After divorce or separation, one of the most challenging things for the children to deal with is when a new partner comes onto the scene. Not only is their world turned upside down by the separation, but any hopes they had of their parents getting back together will be dashed. We posted a while ago about introducing new partners with some suggestions of how it can be done, but here we look at how someone can integrate into family life and become a new step parent.
Becoming a Step Parent
You’ve met a new partner and the relationship has progressed to the point of cohabiting or moving in together. This can be a difficult adjustment for all involved, particularly the children. There are so many factors here to take into consideration, for example:
- How well do your partner’s children know you?
- What ages are the children?
- Are they still in contact with the parent who has moved out?
- Is there anger and resentment from the other parent?
- Do you also have your own children to consider?
Each individual case needs careful and sensitive thought as the children’s needs and feelings will be different in every situation. For example, if you already know your partner’s children well before you move in, then it is likely you will have bonded with them to some degree. The feelings of these children will be very different to children who may not know a new partner well and are then suddenly faced with a replacement Mum or Dad at short notice.
How to Bond with your Step Children
Bonding with someone else’s children can be hard, particularly if they feel you have been the cause of their parent’s separation. Depending on their age they may be determined to ‘not like’ this new person. Here are some pointers to get off on the right foot:
- Spend some quality time with them doing something they enjoy or have chosen to do. Build the relationship with them through shared experiences rather than a forced conversation to ‘get to know one another’.
- Take time to help them with chores or school projects so they will feel you are someone who can help them with things.
- If work allows, be there at the school gates sometimes to pick them up. This will show them that you are happy to give up your time to run them home when they need it.
- Never speak in a derogatory way about their Mum or Dad that they no longer live with full time. Whatever your thoughts about your partners ex, remember that this is the child’s parent and they love them.
- If a child is particularly hostile, do not give up on them, just remain consistent and friendly giving them time to work out their own feelings without any pressure. It may help to tell them to think of you more as a friend than a parent figure.
- If your step children are teenagers, bear in mind that hormones are running wild taking them on an emotional roller coaster, remain passive and calm even when doors are slammed!
How to Discipline your Step Children
Finding yourself in the midst of a new family dynamic can be turbulent and filled with many emotions on all sides. It is likely that children of any age will feel some sort of resentment to the new step parent and will push boundaries to ‘test’ the newcomer. Whilst you will be wanting to connect with the children and bond with them to gain their trust, you will also want their respect – a delicate balance to achieve.
A new step parent who comes into a household, lays down the law and rules with an iron rod will not go down well with the children. It is important that the children don’t feel forced to love this new person but equally they must respect them as an adult in the house. It is important for the parent to be the main disciplinarian, with a united front with the new partner. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t start off the relationship with a load of new rules or changes in the house – be sensitive that the children have already endured a big change in their life with the separation of their parents.
- Let the biological parent be the one to enforce the rules. This doesn’t mean you have no voice, you can still remind the children of rules without causing resentment.
- Make sure you and the biological parent are a united front in terms of boundaries and behaviour. It could be chaos if the two of you don’t agree on the rules. If you disagree with your new partners parenting style this need to be broached out of the children’s earshot.
- Don’t try to punish or discipline the children in a way that is inconsistent with the biological parent.
- Don’t come into the household trying to ‘fix’ the children’s behaviour or reverse the previous ‘bad parenting’. Remember that your own parenting skills will be very different to what your step children are used to.
Growing a Successful and Happy Step Family
The biggest thing to remember here is that these things take time. Building a bond and a loving relationship between yourself and your step children can take 18 months to a few years depending on circumstances. The bond and mutual respect have to grow naturally over time and can never be forced. Don’t take things personally if the child seems resistant, they are dealing with overwhelming mixed emotions from deep within themselves. All you can do is be consistent, firm but fair and a friendly listening ear. Be united and supportive to the biological parent.