20 Tips for Stepfamily Success: Things to know before remarrying
The blending of families can be hard... Dynamics shift and suddenly you are the "new" person in your family.
Stepfamily is a term that can be used rather broadly to include not only families resulting from marriage but also those formed by remarriage, adoption, or cohabitation where children are introduced into the relationship.
No matter what type of blending has occurred, everyone involved will have their own ideas about how the existing dynamics should shift and how people should behave.
These expectations can often result in conflict as new rules are set for who does what and when.
New norms emerge over time that have little resemblance to either of the prior or blended households - all of this will most likely results in some form of stress; however, worry not because we've got 20 tips for you that may help:
1. Understand the dynamics of your new stepfamily
The best predictor of future behavior is the past and this holds true even in stepfamily life. It can be tempting to look at your new partners and expect them to fit into the roles you shared with your ex, but stepfamilies are different and need their own unique approach + time to evolve into a blended whole.
Everyone has a past and bringing that past with you into your current situation could very likely result in conflict for all involved until new patterns emerge , so resist the temptation of trying to work it out this way again...
2. Create realistic expectations
It is important during this transitional period to have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished within the family unit. Attempts by "outsiders" (i.e. the "new" spouse to a family) to define what is and isn't acceptable, often leads to conflict between parties - particularly where there is a generation gap.
In many cases, it means not taking sides when your new partner disagrees with your children or vice versa. It may also mean that you get help from outside sources for things like discipline or childcare during this time of transition.
It's all about the process rather than events at this stage in your life. All parties need to develop patience and understanding while focusing on common goals for the future rather than dwelling on past problems.
Don't allow yourself to be dragged into needless conflicts that can feel insurmountable within a blended family structure - try to keep an open mind; they are very likely to surprise you with their ability to resolve conflicts or come up with creative solutions that work for everyone.
3. See the "tough stuff" as an opportunity
Some of the most difficult times in stepfamily life will be related to how decisions are made, who does what and when, discipline practices, rules about money management, etc. These are all opportunities for growth within blended families if people are willing to learn from one another.
Try not to personalise these issues because it can lead you down a destructive path where resentment quickly follows.
Remember: "It's always about the process." Don't allow these things to derail your focus on being part of something much greater than yourself.
4. Know that you are not alone
Experiencing frustration and recognising that this is a common stepfamily occurrence, is the first step to finding healthy solutions.
Make an effort to find support from family and friends, community and online (blogs, forums). Identify those who are also experiencing similar dynamics and reach out for help.
5. Accept the fact that you will not always handle things in an ideal manner
Focus on what you can do to improve when given an opportunity to respond again in the future. Take time and recognise that you will learn and grow from your mistakes and experiences.
6. Allow things to be as they are
You will need to distance yourself from any expectations of how something should/could/would be if the dynamics were different.
Every stepfamily is constantly evolving as new people enter or leave the situation (ie death, divorce). Whether your spouse's ex continues to play a role in his/her life or not, this does not mean it needs to take place at your house.
Create healthy boundaries for their relationship - they will always be linked if there are children involved - let them work out what works best for everyone involved.
7. Believe that differences can be used as strengths instead of weaknesses
Stepfamilies can benefit from valuing those differences that both parties bring to the relationship. Celebrate these points of view and embrace new perspectives where opinions vary. No one person is right or wrong in their approach, just different.
8. Be willing to listen
Make an effort to put your own needs aside for a moment and focus on what the other individual(s) need(s). Never assume you know how someone thinks or feels about things and be sure to keep an open mind about their perspective.
If there is something that you don't understand, ask questions so that clarity can be obtained before any decision-making takes place.
9. Confront issues when they come up
Stepfamilies are no exception to the fact that every family has issues they need to work through together - this is all a healthy part of family dynamics.
When you feel an issue needs to be addressed, approach the conversation with kindness and stay away from generalising or assigning blame. Remember that when emotions are high, it is much easier to say things that may hurt others - choose your words wisely.
10. Take care of yourself
You cannot be a good partner, spouse or contribute to the family dynamic when you are not well, be that physically or mentally.
It is important that you make time for yourself whenever possible and to eliminate unhealthy habits from your daily routine.
Take care of yourself in body, mind and spirit - if you make this a priority, others will notice and want to follow suit.
11. Work on building a life outside of the stepfamily
Having interests away from the blended family can help alleviate stressors within it.
This space aids in helping individuals feel more confident about themselves which leads to having strong opinions that do not rely solely on approval by others (including spouses).
The ability to voice an opinion based on what YOU think instead of needing their agreement first demonstrates self-respect and healthy boundaries.
12. Practice being a family in your own way
You have the ability to create a new type of family dynamic where everyone is involved in choosing how they contribute to the team.
Whether you need a weekly or monthly activity, traditional holiday dinners or a completely different approach, figure out something that works for you and then do it!
The more effort put into building positive experiences together the better chance at the future generations developing fond memories of their childhoods .
13. Put yourself in their shoes
It's important to try to understand things from another person's perspective before reacting - this means doing your best not to judge what you do not know about their culture, history and experiences.
Stepfamilies will benefit from moving away from typical family "norms" and look at how things could be done differently.
14. Find time for individual activities with each child
The more time you spend with your stepchildren outside of the stepfamily dynamic, the stronger your relationship will become. Be creative when coming up with activities
15. Let go of trying to control their feelings
It's impossible to know what is going on in someone else's head so don't assume that you can or that you should - trust that they are doing (or not doing) whatever feels right and appropriate for them and let it be .
It's not your job to parent another adult - empower them by allowing them the space and privacy needed to make decisions without judgement from others.
16. Be patient
It will take time for everyone to adjust to this new family dynamic! Give everyone a chance to get comfortable with the changes and to feel safe in the new family structure.
Before you know it, things will be running like a well-oiled machine.
17. Keep the commitment made to your stepchildren
You promised them that they would always have a safe place with you, keep this promise by actively participating in family activities like school functions or sporting events.
When it feels like too much, remind yourself why you committed to these children in the first place - make sure they know how important they are!
18. Build relationships with extended family members
It's impossible for anyone else to fill their biological parent(s) spot - but what you can do is show up consistently throughout their lives and to provide a shoulder for them to lean on when they need support.
Having a strong support system around your stepchildren is a great way of showing that you care.
19. Remember that sometimes it takes two steps forward but one step back
Life with children (and not just your own) can be unpredictable, especially if their biological parents are still part of the picture.
Just because there was progress made in the past does not mean that this trend will continue without interruptions.
If something happens that makes you question whether or not continuing to parent your stepchildren through this dynamic is right for all involved - do some soul searching - take time alone away from everyone else (especially kids).
It's important to consider the needs of others but don't forget to stop and think about what YOU need too .
20. Step back, breathe, forgive, move on
At the end of the day it's important to remember that every person is on their own journey.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by life in general or specifically by having to continually parent another adult - stop what you are doing, get up and leave the situation.
It's okay to take some time for yourself. As always, if there is anything at all that you feel out of control, seek help from a professional who specialises in family dynamics.
You may know that there are many things to consider when you remarry, but it’s important to remember the one thing you cannot know.
The only way for stepfamilies to succeed is through love and hard work.
If your family doesn't take care of each other like they should, then all the other tips in this post will amount to nothing more than a list of failures waiting for an inevitable heartbreak.