With the number of integrated families on the rise, WTM looks at expert advice on how to get the perfect happy, blended brood.
Getting married may mean it’s just the two of you starting your new life together. But, for many people, the wedding means an integrated family with either or both partners bringing children from earlier relationships into the mix.
Becoming a step-parent can be both challenging and rewarding and there is plenty of advice and support available. If you’re already a mum, you may find the two sets of kids don’t immediately warm to each other. If you’re going from childless to instant family, the transition can seem overwhelming.
Parenting website kidshealth.org advises giving the relationship time to build, saying: “The initial role of a step-parent is that of another caring adult in a child’s life, similar to a loving family member or mentor. You may desire a closer bond right away, and might wonder what you’re doing wrong if your new stepchild doesn’t warm up to you or your kids as quickly as you’d like — but relationships need time to grow.
“Start out slow and try not to rush into things. Let things develop naturally — kids can tell when adults are being fake or insincere. Over time, you can develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your stepchildren, which doesn’t necessarily have to resemble the one they share with their birth parents.”
There are a number of factors to take into account when looking at how your stepchildren relate to you such as: whether their birth parent is still alive; their age and how long you’ve known them; your partner’s relationship with their ex; and how often you see the children if they don’t live with you.
A few simple points can help make the transition easier for all involved.
Hard though it may seem, remember you are the adult in the situation. Kids need rules and boundaries, time and love. There’s often a temptation to replace these with gifts and goodies, particularly if the relationship doesn’t seem to be going well. Try not to take this route; spending time and effort with new family members will reap far greater rewards.
If you find yourself treating your step-children differently to your own, you will need to make a big effort to be fair and equal. Again this may initially be hard, particularly if the bonding process is not going as quickly as you had hoped. But persevere. Only by being consistent will you gain their trust and, eventually, love.
Make sure you have a clear set of house rules, agreed between you and your partner – you may need back up occasionally. Keep the rules simple, age- appropriate and, if possible, close to those they are already used to following. Making sure everyone knows what’s expected of them leaves less room for conflict.
Never bad mouth the other parent. Yes, it can be hard and there may well be all sorts of issues between the adults involved. But the most important thing for children to know is that both parents still love them, regardless of their feelings for each other. Try to be respectful about their birth parents, even if the kids are moaning about them – it’s all right for little Johnny to whinge about his mum; woe betide anyone else who does so!
Build your relationship by looking for things you can all do together as a family. It could be having a weekly film night, with everyone getting a chance to pick the movie, or all going together to support a child’s sporting endeavours. Ask them about the things they like to do.
Make sure birthdays and other events are special by getting everyone involved – you might want to suggest a shopping trip with your stepchildren to help them buy gifts. And if they’re spending their special day with the other parent, give them a chance to celebrate with you too.
And lastly, just remember, take your time. Give the relationship a chance to develop. Accept that there will be ups and downs. Kids aren’t kids for very long, so, if things really aren’t working out – start counting the days till they head off to college.