Stepfamilies by Emily & John Visher founders of
Stepfamily Association of America
1. Start out in your
own new place if at all possible. This will make for many fewer
"turf" squabbles, hurt feelings, and more ability to rid
yourselves of the ghosts of the past.
2. Do not expect
stepfamilies to be like first marriage families. There are
characteristics that make them different, that bring their own
challenges and rewards. For example, they are formed after
relationship changes and losses; adults and children already
have ideas about how family life should run; they are at
different places in their life (e.g.--a man with three children
may marry a woman who has never had any children); parent-child
relationships existed before the couple relationship was formed.
There is a parent in another household and many children go
between their two homes. These characteristics can add a
richness and diversity to the family and give the couple time on
their own when children are in their other household.
3. Ease in -- let
things develop gradually. Relationships do not develop on
Trust takes time, and initially for the adults it is usually a
strange and unfamiliar world and for most children it seems like
a Star Wars Planet occupied by aliens. Don't be surprised if it
take 4-6 years to feel comfortable.
4. Develop new
traditions. These hasten the sense of belonging and
connectedness as you develop familiar "rituals" and special
celebrations to. We recently read of a wonderful tradition for
stepfamilies: a celebration "dinner for "firsts" "...when Suzy
first learns to read, Charlie gets his driver's license, a
parent makes a hole in one.
differences -- don't fight over right and wrong. Whether or not
sleeps at the foot of the bed or in the garage is not right or
wrong but simply two
6. Share past family
histories. This is a good way to get to know and understand
each other better.
should take on parenting roles very slowly. Stepparents need to
build relationships with stepchildren before attempting to set
limits for them. With teens this type of interaction may never
be achieved. This means the biological parent needs to be
especially aware of setting limits.
8. Form a solid
couple bond. When couples have a good relationship they are able
to work together on meeting the needs of the children. This
reduces the parents'
feelings of being caught in the middle between the children and
the new partner.
9. Develop and
maintain relationships on a one-on-one basis. Having special,
planned, one-on-one time allows relationships to grow and be
Parent-child, stepparent-stepchild, and couple all need their
together, playing a game, reading a story, going to the store,
driving to school,
going for a walk.
children's access to both biological parents. This removes them
being in the middle between their parents and feeling
emotionally torn apart. As
on stepmother said, "The children taught us there's enough love
to go around.
" We don't have to ration love!
11. Adults in both
households make direct contact. The adults need to work
our residential schedules with input from the children, but not
children, until the children are old enough to prefer making
12. Children need a
special spot of their own in the household. With no drawer
or desk or bed it is not possible to feel as though you belong.
One 10 year old
put it clearly by saying, "Why can't they say this is Frank's
room which we use
for a study when he's not here, rather than that this our study
uses when he's here." Even a shelf of your own gives you a claim
in the house.
13. Understand that
much of children's anger comes from changes and losses
they have not chosen. Sharing a parent, a room, or toy with
to a new school; missing your other parent, friends, and former
having unfamiliar food, new rules and ways of doing things.
communicate, communicate. This is not always easy! If you
find you cannot listen well to one another get someone outside
the family to
help you -- a minister, a rabbi, a counselor who understands
15. Contact the
Stepfamily Association of America. There are chapters in many
states. Ask for the catalogue of books and resources. The
Together: Creating Strong Stepfamilies workbook is a good
place to start.
There is a Leader's Manual and kit for those who wish to teach a
Together course. Join support groups or courses given by
or Stepfamily Association chapters in your area. Talking with
can be helpful, supportive, and fun.