Seven Ways To Thrive As A Step Family
Updated March 02, 2020
The process of learning how to thrive as a stepfamily is an art. It takes a good amount of trial and error and a lot of patience. Depending on which parental role you are in, you will have your roles in making sure your stepfamily Is thriving. The most important thing to keep in mind is the children. No matter how difficult it might be, you must protect them by making sure you shield them from as much of the difficult parts as possible.
Thriving as a stepfamily is possible, as long as you are willing to put in the work. The good news is if you build a strong foundation from the very beginning, your family will be ironclad. You deserve to have a happy and fulfilled family life with your new family unit. Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to get there.
Put the Kids First
Life as a parent in a stepfamily isn't always easy. You will be confronted with issues that you might not have had to deal with in the past.
No matter how unqualified you feel to handle these issues, you are capable of. You can overcome any obstacle that you are faced with. The main thing you need to remember is to put the kids first. If you are confronted with a problem that you can't come up with the answer to, ask yourself: what would be best for the kids? Once you decide what that answer is, make a plan and stick to it.
Children are fully reliant on you to keep them safe and happy. Every decision that you make as a stepfamily must have the children in the center of it. As long as you are remembering and focusing on these priorities, you will not fail. It may take a bit of practice, and you are likely to stumble and fall, but you will find a way. For the children, you can overcome any problem that presents itself. Everything will fall into place as long as your heart is in the right place. All you must do is believe.
Find Common Ground
Adding members to any family unit is sure to cause strife. Depending on how old the children are, you might be dealing with your fair share of resistance.
The best way to combat this is to find common ground. Find something that you have in common and run with it. Whether that be an interest in sport or sharing the love of the same restaurant. It doesn't matter what things you find in common. Once you realize these things, though, focus on them. Present yourself in a positive way to try to win over the trust of the children. Once you have that trust, you will have a much easier road ahead of you.
Additionally, you will get to enjoy the benefit of having a positive relationship with your stepchildren. The love shared between a stepparent and a stepchild is like no other. You will learn things about yourself that you didn't know before. The capacity to which you can love a child that is not your own is overwhelming. The beauty of it will be felt to your core. The happiness you will realize is eternal and amazing. You will want to soak up every minute.
Form a Routine
Even though it's not their favorite thing to admit, children thrive on routine. When you are implementing your new stepfamily, make sure you have one in place.
A child without structure is a stressed-out child. Stressed out children have trouble focusing, communicating, and expressing their emotions. When you have a stepchild that is feeling this weight, it is going to make your job of thriving as a stepfamily much harder.
The good news is there is an easy solution for this. Setting out a strict routine for your household will make a world of difference. There are many ways to implement this in your life. If the kids are visual learners, consider making a graphic for the fridge. You can list the duties of the day or have a schedule posted which will keep everyone informed of their household duties. This is also a great place to display any chores that you want to split up amongst the family.
For some families, it might be easier to have a group text. This works especially well for stepfamilies of older kids. You can use the group text to communicate duties for the day, expectations, and reminders. This is a great option for stepfamilies because since you're not always together, you need a way to stay connected when you are apart. This will be the perfect way to facilitate that.
Focus on Individual Relationships
When we think of a family, we usually focus on the whole group. This is important, after all, a solid team is important. But it is essential that family members form individual bonds as well. Otherwise, you end up with a 'hers,' 'his,' and 'theirs' situation. Here's an example:
Lori and Johnny married when Johnny's daughter Lu was just six years old. Lori didn't have any children but was itching to start a family. The relationship with Johnny's ex-wife was strained, causing tension with all of the adults. This made it hard for Lori and Lu to bond. When Lori got pregnant right away, Lu felt pushed to the side and ignored. Everyone was so excited about the baby. Lu was so proud when her first little brother was born. By the time her second brother was born two years later, she felt like everyone had forgotten about her.
Was Lu really abandoned and forgotten about? Of course not, but she felt that way, and perception shapes reality. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending, but only after years of hurt feelings and therapy. Now, everyone involved realizes that the problems could have been solved much sooner if the grown-ups involved would have done one simple thing: spent some time bonding with Lu individually. Although it probably would have been difficult for Lori to bond with Lu gave the circumstances, a couple of mother-daughter dates and a trip to a family counselor could have made a huge difference. The same is true for your family.
The people who are having trouble connecting are the ones who need the most extra time together. If others are around during these bonding times, it will be easy to ship the focus. So instead, plan solo missions, even if they seem a bit awkward. Your overall family unit will strengthen when every single family member connects on some level.
Strive for Effective Co-Parenting
A big part of thriving as a stepfamily has to do with the other biological parent. If they are still in the picture, effective co-parenting is a must.
This is a particularly difficult subject for many new stepfamilies. There are often unhealed wounds and bad blood between the previous couple which can get in the way of being effective co-parents. Although this may be difficult to get past, it is necessary for the mental health of the children. Kids need to see both of their families getting along and working together. That will allow the child to have trust and happiness in their family. Studies also show that children whose parents get along have decreased problem-solving skills and self-esteem. The last thing you want to do is negatively impact your child's life due to personal preference.
A lot of getting along while co-parenting has to do with swallowing your pride. When you are dealing with a difficult ex, this can be difficult to do. You have to balance the feelings of resentment or hate for an ex. You might feel confused inside because when you are dealing with kids, all the rules regarding exes are thrown out the window, where you might expect your current love interest to bail on any previous relationships, that can happen when they have kids together. They are bound for life. You now have a responsibility to learn to get along and respect this person for the sake of the kids.
In many cases, this is easier said than done. Getting along with another parent has many implications. You may have different ideas about how the children should be raised. These disagreements can cause a rift between the two of you, and the children will inevitably get stuck in the middle. You must eventually realize that, ultimately, the best thing you can do for your kids is learning how to get along. When they see adults overcoming their issues and working together to achieve a common goal, it will inspire them. They will carry the things they see you doing into their future relationships. Be mindful of the example you are setting for this reason.
Eat Dinner Together
The easiest way to keep communication and closeness together is to make it a point to join at dinner. You may get a fair amount of resistance from this, especially if you have teenagers.
Most likely, your children will enjoy eating dinner as a family. They will have a hard time admitting this is the case but having face-to-face time with the important adults in their lives is appreciated. You can use this time to talk about the day or to focus on family issues that need resolving. Having dinner together opens many possibilities for communication. If anything, ever comes up, your children will know that dinnertime is a time when they can come to talk and be listened to. A supported stepfamily is a happy stepfamily, so keep this tradition at the heart of your home.
When you decide to implement this strategy, there are a couple of pointers you can use to get the most out of your time. First, implement a strict no technology policy at the dinner table. Cell phones and tablets distract everyone and will lead to unproductive or reduced conversation. Additionally, make sure that everyone has a chance to speak their mind. Even if you have to stay seating for a while after finishing your dinner, you should do so. It is important for each member of your stepfamily to feel equally important and listened to.
Enlist Some Professional Help
If you are still struggling with issues with your stepfamily, it may be time to reach out for help. A licensed counselor or therapist is a great person to have on your team in your time of need.
The counselors and therapists at ReGain could be a wonderful resource for your stepfamily. Their host of professionals have thousands of hours of experience helping families just like yours reach their full potential. Their online platform makes it easy to match with the perfect therapist for you and your family. There is no need to face this battle alone - with the right help you could be well on your way to a thriving stepfamily in no time.