Creating a blended family is a wonderful time in many people’s lives, but it is also a time that brings together different parents, spouses, and siblings in a brand new environment. In her book Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn’t, psychiatrist Patricia Papernow, Ed.D. states, “A stepfamily is a fundamentally different structure and it makes a different foundation for relationships than a first-time family.” In this article we will explore some dos and don’ts to help you and your new family.
Do Not Attempt to Take the Place of the Mother or the Father
First, new spouses do not have an equal relationship to the children involved or in the parenting process in general. This creates a web of boundaries that are sometimes difficult to maintain and also dangerous to cross. One in particular is the boundary between parent and step parent. Whether the new relationship is the result of a divorce or the death of a previous spouse, a step parent cannot take the place of the biological parent and should not try to. Regardless of what the biological ex has done in the past or is continuing to do, respect to the child’s needs for a relationship and love with that parent is important. Try to be clear with yourself and the stepchild about your role in the family. A step parent can become a loved and respected member of the family without being called “mom” or dad.”
Ease into a Position of Authority
Young children may be better at accepting a step parent’s authority in the new family, but older school-age children and teens may often rebel against a step parent’s attempts at automatic authority. It is therefore important to ease into this position as a supportive friend to the child and a supportive resource to your partner. Basic respect will go a long way.
Assist in Fostering Co-parenting Between Your Spouse and his or her Ex
Parenting duties should be completed by both parents and both parents should be in agreement on how a child will be parented. After all, your children will be shaped by the type of parenting and upbringing that they receive. Therefore, help create a positive relationship between your spouse and his or her ex and between the children and the biological parent.
Do Not Contribute to Bad Mouthing Your Partner’s Ex
It can be tempting to speak poorly about your spouse’s ex, especially when you see the hurt that person caused and may be still causing. It is important to restrain yourself around the children. Children may be damaged by exposure to ongoing conflict and repeat negative messages about their parent. Damage is further caused when a child feels that he or she is in the middle of such conflict.
If you have questions concerning a blended family, please contact the attorneys at Vayman & Teitelbaum. Our experienced team understands the multiple level of emotions involved during this time. We will help offer our assistance in any way possible to make this transition smooth and comfortable for all parties involved.