One of the most challenging things in life may be trying to successfully blend together two separate families with different expectations, experiences, and backgrounds. And being a stepparent may be the hardest thing anyone attempts in their life (possibly the most unappreciated anyway). Here are five tips from experienced parents on how to express love within a blended family.
Accept everyone for who they are
Lower your expectations of trying to look like the “perfect family.” Do not force kids to immediately love their new siblings or step parent. Bonding and learning to love each other is a gradual process that takes time. Accept everyone for who they are, not who you want them to be.
Treat everyone with respect
Do not show favoritism. It’s difficult sometimes to bond with children that you haven’t fathered. But showing favoritism to “your” children is one sure way to create resentment and anger in the family. Also, as a new stepfather it is probably counterproductive to try and discipline your new wife’s children, at least before you have earned their respect (which might take some time). That’s not to say you allow yourself to be walked on, but it does mean you tread carefully with wisdom and discretion.
As a stepparent be intentional in getting to know your step child
Let them set the pace of the relationship. But be proactive in finding opportunities to talk with them or do things together that they enjoy. Try to be natural about it as forcing this process is not only awkward but actually serves to push the child away from you (no one wants to be close to someone who is desperate). Be patient—remember all good things take time.
Allow everyone to grieve the loss of their last family whether through death or divorce
Listen for the pain in their conversations. Validate their loss. What is beneath the anger they show—possibly fear and grief? Likely they are scared and lonely. Probably all family members are to some degree. This is where a father needs to show strong, calm, compassionate leadership by encouraging this process to take place so everyone can grow and move forward into healthy relationships. Recognizing and talking about this process is important in dealing with it effectively.
Build new memories and history
Have fun. Laugh often. Create new traditions. People bond together through the experiences they have together. Good memories and experiences create healthy bonding. Healthy homes contain a lot of laughter. Be pro-active about laying a foundation based on fun and laughter, not stress and anger. As a good friend of mine once wisely said, “I judge the health of my family by the amount of laughter I hear in our home.”
Rick Johnson is a sought-after speaker and bestselling author of 11 books on parenting and marriage. He is also the founder and director of Better Dads Ministries.