Written by: Caroline Meyer

There is no such thing as the perfect family. Those Facebook and Instagram families that look like they have it all together, they have their own issues when they step away from the camera. Blended families can have even more issues than most. Whether you are a first time parent to children from different biological parents or you bring some of your own in to the mix, it takes patience and understanding to make a blended family work.  Here are a few things you can try as a step-parent to try and make the transition period a little easier. 

Don’t rush it 

Don’t jump in with both feet and demand to be called mom or dad by your new step-children right from the start or try forcing a bond on them that they may not accept right at the beginning. Children coming from a background of a death or a nasty divorce can be quite fragile and may find it difficult to trust or accept another parental figure in their lives. Relationships take time. You may never have a traditional parent/child relationship with a step-child, but if you take time and allow for their feelings as well, a bond will eventually form. Don’t force it and don’t fake it. Be sincere and be there and give everyone time to adjust. 

What can affect your relationship with step-children? 

Younger children usually adapt easier than older children. There may be plenty of anger and resentment to deal with, hurt and grief as well as confusion. While little ones may seem to settle in easier at the start, there may be deep emotions that come through later in life, often manifesting in bad behaviour. Foster an open relationship where the children can talk freely and express their feelings. This will help in the short and the long term.  If you managed to get to know the children before you got married, it can often make things easier when you become a step-parent. If you date for some time before tying the knot, the children may also feel more secure that this may be a more lasting situation and be more accommodating.  Ex-spouses can also cause a lot of damage in a step-parent and step-child relationship. Try and have a situation of open communication and minimal conflict with the ex-spouses on both sides. This will make things easier for everyone in the long run. Ensure the time spent together is quality time. The quantity is not as important, but making sure your time with your step-child is well spent is a lot more important.  Sometimes taking a step back so they can spend more time with their birth parent will mean more to them and this will also help them feel more amenable towards you. 

Basic guides to being a step-parent  

Base decisions on what is important. There are certain things a child needs over and above the basics of food, clothing and a roof over their heads.  They need love and affection, they need boundaries and a consistent set of rules for behaviour. Don’t spend money trying to buy the affection of a step-child. Treat all children in the family equally. Give them what they need, not necessarily everything they want. 

Decide with your spouse what the rules are in the household for all children. Where possible, try and involve the other parents, grandparents or other homes where they will spend time, to try and keep the rules consistent. The rules may be different based on ages, but no matter whether the child is a step-child or biological child, the rules must apply equally. Both partners must agree to enforce the rules fairly for all children. Ensure rewards are equable as well. Try and keep the punishments and rewards consistent across households as far as possible too. This makes for a more stable home and children feel more secure. It also prevents the build up of resentment if kids get better rewards and lesser punishment in their “other” households. 

Respect all parents! Do not talk badly about ex-partners on either side in front of the children. This sets a bad example and can also cause conflict with the other parents.  Should your partner’s or your previous partner be deceased, you can find ways to honour the parent that has passed on, to allow the child to know the person mattered and it is okay for them still to love them and miss them.  Don’t use the children to carry messages to the parents in their “other” homes. The kids will be put in awkward situations and will resent you for it. The other parents may also not appreciate it. Speak to the other parents directly, especially regarding scheduling, health issues or problems the children may be experiencing at home or at school. If you cannot meet face to face, you can always use text, email or other forms of communication. 

Start new traditions. You may have had specific traditions in your previous household and your spouse may have had different ones. Instead of trying to force either sides traditions on to the step-family, blend them or start completely new traditions. Chat to the children as a whole and let them all come up with ideas to have fun together. You can also do things spontaneously, which if it gels well with all or most of the children, may become a firm family tradition over time as well. 

Communication is key 

Talking to your spouse is absolutely vital when it comes to making step-parenting work. You need to make decisions together and you have to be on the same page when it comes to boundaries and discipline in your home.  Talk to each other about the children as well to get insight in to the other partners experiences with his or her children. Spend time discussing the family with your partner so that you present a united front to the children.  Involve everyone in family decisions. Build a family unit by making decisions as a family with everyone having an equal say.  

They key to becoming a good step-parent is simply taking things slowly. Get to know the child or children and what makes them tick. Be positive and accepting and treat your step-children the same way you would your biological children. They do not have to love you or even like you at the beginning, although it is important that they respect you. It may take a step-child some time to be comfortable with you and maybe even longer to truly trust you and care about you. You don’t have to force the issue. Be consistent and it will come in time.