Step-parents and children can thrive in blended families with little understanding of the process.
Merging begins with the Courting Phase, just as with dating.
People are on their best behaviour, showing their good side and hiding their less stellar points. They may be more giving than usual, saying “I’ll take your glass to the sink, just sit there darling.”
Then comes the Honeymoon Phase.
The newly blended family is having extra fun, going to amusement parks and keeping occupied with other enjoyable pursuits. Life is one big holiday and individuals are getting along so well.
Then day to day reality sets in. Not only is the sink pointed out to the child, but so is the mop and dust cloth. Chores materialize and the honeymoon is over. Disenchantment can set in on both sides.
The children may become sulky when life is no longer all fun and games. The step-parent wonders what happened to the sweet kids and who are these opinionated brats?
How to make blending go smoother?
Be your authentic self at all times. Be warm and kind, but not bending over backwards to fulfil the children’s every whim. From day one, let them know that there is no maid service, so everyone takes their glasses to the sink.
You are not their best friend and let them warm up to you on their own time schedule. Do not attempt to bribe them with presents to win them over. Even if they never come around completely, insist upon respect and good manners, not love. Let them know you are there for them, whenever they want help.
Realize that people are on their best behaviour during the Courting Phase, so do not be blindsided when reality sets in. Children can be great, but have to let off steam. Do not take it personally when it happens.
Some of my friends have talked about their own step-mothers to their new step-children. They emphasize what great family friends they are and how they fill a special supportive role.
As a biological parent, consider having regular family meetings to air concerns and set up a rota for chores.
My step-mother gave me chores to do when I came over on the weekends and this helped me to feel a part of her family. I felt like I did my share and was not a guest.
Give expected behaviour guidelines, such as treating everyone with respect. Ask kids what special treats and fun they would like, but be clear that you are not getting a bank loan to do expensive activities every weekend. It was the little things that I enjoyed most with my step-mum, such as making paper dolls or baking brownies.
One step-dad was great at helping his step-son maintain his clunker of a car. It is the experiences that are so meaningful to step-kids.
Expect bumps in the road. Life may be going smoothly, then there is chaos. This can be a result of children turning into teens or other issues. The key is communication. Attempt to discuss what is going on. If things become more difficult, consider a session or two with a divorce coach to get everyone back on track. One may discover that there are issues with the other parent or difficulties at school.
With time, blended families grow to love, or at least like each other. It was wonderful for me to gain an instant extended family, since I am an only child. It helps when the biological parent is supportive of the new step-parent, as my mother was of my step-mum.
Author of The Woman’s Holistic Guide to Divorce
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