Steps to take before the marriage- Tips for effective step-parenting
Second marriages can be filled with excitement and bliss about the start of your new family. When joining two families it is very important to have a conversation about each parent’s roles and expectations before you move in together. For example, whose responsibility is it to parent each child, should each person parent their own children? In theory this sounds like a great plan, however, this approach rarely works. Can you sit back and watch a child run into traffic? We are human and have difficulty not getting involved when we see someone we care about getting upset.
Having these types of conversations about your parenting plan and setting boundaries can help reduce conflict and give you a map to follow in the future.
Start planning for the big day
Before living together talk openly about your parenting philosophies. How do you parent your child? What is acceptable behavior from a child? How do you reinforce appropriate behavior and punish inappropriate behavior? What routines do you already have established? For example, some parents are ok with TV in the child’s bedroom while others are not. If you move in together and only one child is allowed TV it can lead to resentment and anger.
Think about your child’s routine, living environment, and some different worst-case scenarios, and then explore how you can work through them together. If you plan and assign the roles and responsibilities to each member in the home, even parents who have very different parenting styles can co-parent effectively.
Establish healthy routines early
Set up some healthy habits for communications. Plan some time each week that you can sit down as a family and talk about what is going well, and what might need to be tweaked. No person wants to hear what they aren’t doing well, so if you start by having a routine of eating dinner together and openly talking about your day, then your children may be more receptive to feedback in the future. If you have a child that is resentful about your new relationship, or not very talkative to begin with, try playing games at dinner.
Put the family rules in writing and have it somewhere everyone can see them. It’s best if you can sit down with your kids and talk about how each family may have had different rules and now that you are all living together you want to establish a new set of rules with input from everyone. Ask the kids what they think is important to have in a respectful home.
Keep the rules simple and decide together on consequences for not following the rules. If everyone is involved in determining the rules and consequences you have an agreement to go back to when something is not followed.
Fill up your emotional bank account
Would you go on a major shopping spree without any money in the bank? Parenting someone else’s children without something in the bank doesn’t work. When we have a baby there are days and nights filled with cuddles, excitement about milestones and a strong attachment. We need these moments to fill up our bank account of patience and consistency. It is important that each parent has time with his or her new stepchild to build a rapport and strengthen the relationship.
Try to set aside some time each week to do something positive so that when the time comes for you to reinforce family rules, you will have a nice savings account of patience to work through the child’s reaction, and the child will feel adequately attached to you to respect the boundaries. If you find that the child is constantly ignoring you, fighting family rules, or acting out it may be a sign that the attachment between the stepparent and child needs to be further explored. Being consistent with your expectations and reactions is an important part of creating a secure attachment.
People do not change overnight. It will take time for everyone to adjust to the new home environment. Have you ever gone away to school or to summer camp? There were moments filled with fun and excitement, but also stress related to dealing with the new people in your life. Blending families can be the same way; filled with bliss and stress. Give everyone time and space to work through feelings and respect any feelings that may arise. For example, if your child says they hate their new stepparent allow your child to explore what is attributing to this feeling and what could help him feel better about the new relationship.
Give your child tools to express his feelings in a healthy way. For example, you can give him a special journal that can be used to draw or write in. The journal can be a safe place where anything can be expressed and your child can decide if he wants to share it with you. If after 6 months you find that there is still more conflict than cooperation it may be helpful to talk to a professional.