When my husband and I blended our family of six, we faced an uphill battle helping our children forge a relationship with their new stepparent. My own three children had a dad of their own, who lived nearby, while my stepdaughter had a mom who lived far away. Our children, like all children of blended families, had to learn how to accept another “mom” or “dad” without diminishing their relationship with their biological parent.
Experts often say a stepparent should be a friend, a mentor of sorts, and try to avoid being a disciplinary parental figure. However, stepparents often face stepchildren using the old standby “you’re not my mom (or dad).” One way to help this process is to embrace what you have to offer the stepchild as a person, and not worry as much about the parental figure you need to become.
My children have gained insight into so many areas of life that they never would have experienced without their stepdad. They’ve learned to love camping, fishing, geocaching, clamming, even restoring an old truck and hunting because these are passions of their stepdad’s. My stepdaughter has watched me plan parties, advise her on tricky social situations, and be genuinely interested in her academic achievement. Because we show an interest, and share our own, our children have learned to accept guidance from us as parents and stepparents.
Children from blended families are lucky. They often have three or four adults who genuinely show an interest in their schooling, their talents, their dreams. They are able to enjoy more adult one-on-one time because there are simply more adults involved. There is rarely a shortage of adults to watch a baseball game or a gymnastics meet. And these children grow up with not one or two, but three of four unique perspectives on life.
Stepparents must learn to embrace the children of their blended family as unique individuals. Most children will come into the new family situation having spent many years in an entirely different family unit. Blending traditions, or even routines, becomes challenging. By accepting the values and traditions that have been set, and sharing new ones, a blended family can create new and everlasting traditions. In my own blended family, our kids have taken all of their blended holiday traditions and come up with some of their own, to which they adhere fiercely and feel very passionate about. And it’s wonderful because these are the traditions they will remember, and each contains a small part of the family as a whole. Mom, dad, stepmom, stepdad and the children at the center of it all.
Stepparents can step up to this challenge by offering their unique gifts and embracing the child’s gifts as well. By being accepting of change and differences in family dynamics, stepparents can rise to the occasion of a very challenging situation and develop strong bonds with their stepchildren. And strong bonds lead to happy blended families.