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The Stepmom’s Guide to Simplifying Your Life

FamilyRule: Helping Stepfamilies and Single Parents Build Happy Homes


Building Enduring Relationships with Stepkids
by Louise Hajjar Diamond

Getting married always presents adjustments for the wife, husband and their extended families. Marrying into an already existing family structure introduces additional challenges and adjustment for everyone involved. Newlyweds may not enjoy the same privacy and bonding time that childless couples experience. Stepparents will have instant roles and new relationships with possibly confused or resentful children.
With the proper blend of patience, communication, and support from your spouse, being a stepparent can be a rewarding and positive adventure. Here are some tips for easing the transition and building and maintaining healthy relationships with your stepchildren.

Depending on the situation and age, children may take a long time to accept a stepparent. Teens may take even longer than children under eight. Adolescents may already be struggling with all the adult relationships in their lives. They may also be experiencing things that have nothing to do with the new stepparent. Being too eager to force a relationship may backfire.

Giving kids time to get used to you may prove beneficial over time. “The greatest chance to be a positive influence can only be achieved through patient bonding,” advises John Patrick Jacobson, a stepfather of two teenaged children and founder of website, Stepfathers.com.

Your spouse plays a vital role in helping kids and stepparents build a positive relationship. Tad Benson, a stepdad of a six-year-old boy and founder of Stepdads.com warns that sometimes “Moms tend to try and force it and make everything all right, but it won’t pay off in the long run.”

Benson maintains, rather than rush the relationship, “it will take time and it needs to be built on mutual trust and acceptance.” He states, “your goal initially is to survive.” Based on his experience, Benson adds, “as long as everyone is mutually respected and there’s love abounding, you should strive to create your own relationship and family dynamics.”
Benson warns that, “stepdads need to see themselves as stepdads, not biological dads.” Though this may be difficult to accept when you are eager to forge new relationships with stepkids, but Benson feels this belief will help to build a better foundation. A new, special bond will most likely develop naturally over time.

According to a recent poll completed by stepdads, conversation is the best way to connect with stepchildren. This is followed by activities of mutual interest such as computer games and sports.

Stepparents may make progress building relationships with stepchildren by trying to be a loving relative, instead of a parent. Understand that the child may feel threatened and concerned about their place in the family. Children may worry about their relationship with your spouse, their parent

Benson comments, “the thing that worked best for me and our family was that I had an outlook that framed all of my interactions.” In his experience with his stepson, Benson says, “I look at him as an individual, a family member, a loved one that I am helping raise, to mentor, to love, and a friend and a parent when appropriate.” He suggests providing a stepchild with a “sanctuary of love” at home.

Whether your stepchildren are living with you or just are frequent visitors, chances are as a stepparent, you will need to take care of at least some of the discipline. Benson states, “the important thing to remember is that the stepparent still needs to set boundaries and be firm” while being there to reinforce your spouse and your stepchild’s other natural parent. “Rushing in to be the disciplinarian can undermine the initial trust,” notes Benson.
“Over time and once trust is built, experts seem to suggest that stepparents can take a more central role in discipline,” Benson comments on the research he’s done on his website.
Jacobson suggests that stepparents “can increase the chance of success in their families if they tread lightly when it comes to discipline." He warns not to force the kids to call you "Mom" or “Dad.” He continues, “Think of yourself as your spouse’s helpmate and the children’s mentor.”

Jacobson says the golden rule of stepparenting is:
You can have input, but behind the scenes is best, not in front of the children.

The rules of steparenthood are always arbitrary. As with all family structures, there is no set formula that works for all families or relationships. Stepparents may even have different relationships with each child in the family depending on the child’s needs.
If the natural parent of your stepchildren is still involved, it may be best to take a less parental role. If the biological parent is deceased or otherwise not involved, stepparents may need and decide to take more active roles once a foundation of mutual trust is established. Taking on the full parental role must first be all right with the surviving natural parent and the kids in order to be successful. It may also be a long process that evolves over time and may be in the best interest of everyone involved.

Jacobson notes, “a stepdad has to mold himself around the family he enters.” He maintains that if the biological dad remains the chief mentor and patriarchal decision-maker, then the stepdad has to take a backseat in this regard.

Stepparents have become a valuable and vital part of many American families. There are many resources available for stepparents on the web. Log on to the following websites for more information:

Louise Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, freelance writer, and mother of two. To reprint this article contact her at weazer@sprynet.com.

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