Approximately 50 percent of divorced men and 45 percent of divorced women remarry within five years of the divorce, according to a 2006 article from the U.S. Census Bureau, and approximately 49 percent of those remarriages include children from one or both marriage partners. Those statistics mean many families will have biological parents who need to communicate with stepparents. To provide the best environment for children, you must learn to deal civilly with your son’s stepmother.
The relationships in a blended family are complex and can contain many factors that make communication challenging, such as jealousy and loyalty conflicts, according to Jonah Green, licensed social worker, in the article, Parenting Under Complex Conditions: Creating a Nurturing Stepfamily Environment. Accord your son’s stepmother with respect and be as friendly and open as possible when you run into each other during visitation, dropping off and picking up and family events, suggests Patricia L. Papernow, Ed.D., author of “Becoming a Stepfamily: Patterns of Development in Remarried Families” in an article for The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Decide that for the sake of your son, you will keep tensions as low as possible and refuse to speak ill of her or take sides with your son against her, according to advice on HelpGuide.org.
2. Acknowledge Roles
In a blended family, everyone has roles and it helps to stay within those set boundaries. You and your ex are your child’s biological family and the parents who have the most legal and moral right to make choices about your son’s parenting. The stepmother has a support role as your ex-husband’s new wife and an adult who sometimes have direct authority over your son when his father is away. Help her understand what rules are important to you. She might not have any children of her own and your son could be her first experience with kids, so cut her a little slack, suggests HelpGuide.org. If you have problems with her, try talking to your ex about the issue and see if he can ease the situation without feeling the need to take sides.
3. Set an Example
Children look to parents to set an example, so show your son’s stepmom how you prefer to be treated. Invite her to take part in family activities, such as birthday parties, holidays and vacation plans. If you can’t always agree on how to do things, give her an area of responsibility and let her handle that in whatever manner seems best to her, such as choosing the paper products and decorations for the birthday party or preparing the main dish for a family meal. Remember her birthday with a card or a text. If you are picking up your son for visitation, make sure you arrive and drop him off on time or call if you will be delayed or can’t make it. The National Stepfamily Resource Center suggests that you communicate with a “Dutch door” format so that you communicate well about issues that affect your child and stay out of areas that pertain to your ex’s marriage and new wife.
4. Seek Support
Sometimes things just don’t go smoothly and you need support. Seek out a counselor with experience in blended families willing to work with all members of the family. A few sessions could iron out major wrinkles in your relationship and help everyone feel more comfortable. A counselor will also give you someone neutral to talk to about your feelings and help you see things with a more objective viewpoint, suggests Papernow.
- U.S. Census Bureau: Remarriage in the United States
- McLean School of Maryland: Parenting Under Complex Conditions: Creating a Nurturing Stepfamily Environment
- HelpGuide.org: Guide to Step-parenting & Blended Families
- National Stepfamily Resource Center: What Works (and what doesn’t) in Building Healthy Stepfamilies
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: Stepfamilies
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images