Four out of every ten households in the United States are blended families. So, 40 percent of all married parents nationwide have children from a previous marriage or relationship. Having a blended family is not easy, but there are ten strategies stepparents can use to create a safe and supportive stepfamily.
- Connect with the children at their point of emotional need.
Remarriage is a challenge for everyone, especially children. For most children, their parent’s decision to remarry represents the loss of the dream that their biological parents will reunite. Even children whose parents had a terrible relationship often fantasize that someday everyone will be happy. This grief is painful and can last a lifetime.
- Encourage children to talk about their feelings.
It’s not an easy task, but every child needs a safe and nurturing environment where they feel respected and comfortable enough to share their emotions. When a parent is transparent about their feelings, they foster security and trust. The best way a parent can encourage their bonus or biological child to open up is by setting a good example.
- Have realistic expectations.
A stepparent will not experience instant intimacy, trust, and respect with their bonus children. Getting to know each other will take time. The unrealistic expectation of quickly becoming “one big happy family” will set up a stepparent for disappointment every time. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12, NLT).
- Establish new family traditions.
Every family needs to develop its own culture. By starting new traditions, a blended family can provide a greater sense of belonging for everyone involved. And parents who include their children in the process will increase their level of support and cooperation.
- Be sensitive to traditions that have already been established in a child’s life.
If a child has always visited their grandparents for a week during the summer or spent Christmas Eve with their non-custodial parent, don’t suddenly change those traditions. The resentment a child may feel could undermine all the stepparent’s efforts.
- Don’t trash the child’s other biological parent.
Showing respect and civility to the other biological minimizes conflict and strengthens the child/parent relationship. As bad as some situations can get, parents must control their feelings and comments as Romans 14:19 says, “Let us aim for harmony…”
- The marriage relationship must be a priority.
Every successful blended family has one common characteristic — a strong bond between the husband and wife. Couples in blended families have incredible distractions in their lives. Ex-spouses, new schools, and new homes can threaten a marriage.
- Parents must clearly define rules thoroughly and follow through with discipline.
Many stepparents tend to be too lenient with their new stepchildren in hopes of winning their acceptance and approval. This approach never works. All children need and expect to have boundaries in place, and consistent discipline is one of the most effective and powerful ways of communicating love and respect.
- Both parents must be involved in establishing the rules for discipline.
Parents must always present a unified front when enforcing the rules. United parents are much more likely to gain respect from their children. Children are brilliant and will try to figure out how to play their parents against one another.
- Place God in the center of your home.
The ultimate key to a successful stepfamily is making God the centerpiece of the home. But a Christ-centered life and family only happen when the parents have a vibrant relationship with God. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
For more help, get a copy of Steve Arterburn and Connie Clark’s book, Understanding and Loving Your Bonus Child.
By Steve Arterburn