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Blending and Building a Successful Step-family

Blending and Building a Successful Step-family

On 14 Nov 2014, in family issues, parenting

By Kiarma Webster, MSW, LCSW

As children, many of us dreamed of the day we would have our own families. We imagined ourselves as fun, nurturing, loving parents. We would feed our children delicious, healthy meals, take them on exciting vacations. You probably imagined doing all the things for your children that your parents did for you and maybe some of the things you wish your parents had done. Not many people envision themselves as step-parents, yet as adults, some of us find ourselves in this role. What makes a good step-parent? To understand how to be a successful step-parent, let’s explore some of the common mistakes made.

“Meet your new mommy!”

It’s always a bad idea to try to replace the absent parent. There is a unique relationship between a child and his biological parent. No matter how wonderful you are as a step-parent, you will never take the place of the biological parent. Some step-parents try to be the “favorite parent.” They may try to buy the affections of the child with gifts or special privileges. (“Well, I think you are old enough to shave your legs. Let’s buy you some razors.”) Other step-parents may try to distance the child from the biological parent and discourage contact between the two. This can cause a child to feel caught in the middle and can create loyalty conflicts for the children. Some people don’t understand that children can love several adults. Loving a biological parent doesn’t mean that a child can’t love a step-parent also.

A successful step-parent recognizes the importance of the absent parent. This step-parent understands that children need to love BOTH biological parents. Rather than ignoring the non-custodial parent, he welcomes pictures and mementos of the biological parent into the home. She encourages the child to nurture the relationship with the non-custodial parent through visits, phone calls, texting, etc. A successful step-parent invites the non-custodial parent to important events (birthday parties, school performances, graduations). The goal of the successful step-parent should be to act as an added parent figure or friend, not a substitute.

“I love her like she’s my own daughter!”

Another common mistake some step-parents make is insisting that their feelings for their step-children and their biological children are the same. This person may feel guilty for loving their biological children more and may over-compensate with the step-children by giving gifts, spending extra time or expressing insincere feelings. A step-parent may insist on being included in all activities or not allow the new spouse to spend alone time with his or her biological children.

There is a bond between the new spouse and his or her biological children. A successful step-parent acknowledges, respects and encourages that bond. Try not to feel resentful or excluded when a child and parent need their time alone. It’s natural to feel closer to your biological children than to your step-children. Relationships grow over time, so try not to worry or force feelings.

“That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch!”

There is no perfect family and family life cannot always be happy. Some step-parents may resist expressing negative emotions. They may refuse to share their opinions in an effort to avoid conflict. They may want outsiders to see “how great we’re doing.” Some step-parents may believe that difficulties within the family will lead to failure.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Problems exist in every family and do not always lead to the end of a marriage or a family splitting up. Disagreements and difficulties cause family relationships to grow and evolve. Unhappy times teach children coping skills they will need later in life and help them develop resilience. A successful step-parent accepts imperfections within the family. Be honest about how you feel and encourage your family members to share their feelings -- even the negative or unpleasant ones. Don’t allow yourself to be guided by unrealistic media portrayals of step-families.

I’ve worked with many blended families, but I have yet to meet the “Brady Bunch.”

Being a good step-parent requires different skills than being a good parent. Allow your relationship with your step-children to develop naturally. Be patient. Respect and encourage the children’s relationships with BOTH of their biological parents. Allow yourself and your family members to make mistakes and have disagreements. This is part of healthy family life.

For more information or extra support for yourself or your family, contact BJC EAP.

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