Being a stepparent often means navigating the choppy waters that come about when you become a blended family. Dealing with biological parents, figuring out when to discipline and getting to know your stepkids can seem treacherous at times, particularly when your blended family isn't exactly working as a team. Still, if you're willing to put in the time and effort, you can help mend a broken blended family for smoother sailing ahead.
Respect and support your stepchildren's biological parents and let them call the shots. The step relationship takes time to develop. While it's developing -- and particularly if it already seems broken -- be a constant presence in your stepchildren's lives, but let the biological parents have the final say. If there’s a behavioral issue for which your stepchild needs a consequence, let your spouse deal with it -- and show your support for her decision. By allowing the kids to see the adults in the family as a team rather than rivals, they'll naturally catch on to the spirit of working together to make the blended family work.
Start small, but take the initiative to get to know each of your stepkids individually, suggests clinical social worker Robert Taibbi in a July 2011 article for the Psychology Today website. While a stepchild might not be itching to spend free time with a stepparent, it's an important way to solidify your relationship and mend any hurt feelings. For example, you might suggest grabbing an ice cream cone together, or chat up a conversation a few minutes before dinner, showing your stepkids that you want to make an effort to get to know them.
Bond with your stepkids over shared interests. While you might not have the strongest of relationships, try to find things that you can enjoy doing together that can help grow your relationships. For example, if you share the love a certain sport, suggest attending a game together or at least watching the sport on TV together. If the kids participate in extracurricular activities become a cheerleader for them. Attend games and functions even if they don't ask you to attend -- or ignore you when you do. Just letting them see that you're there, lets them know that you care -- and this can help heal them if they're hurting.
Work with your spouse and your stepchildren's other biological parent to create boundaries and expectations that the kids can follow, suggests counselor Jennifer Garcia in a presentation for University of Houston-Clear Lake. Conflict can arise as stepchildren learn to navigate between different sets of rules. By creating predictable boundaries, children feel more secure in knowing what to expect.
Treat all the kids in your household the same. Have the same set of rules and consequences for both your biological and stepkids -- and show no favoritism or make exceptions to the rules. Don’t worry that you will lose that connection with your biological kids by treating them in the same way as you stepkids, notes James Lehman, M.S.W. in an article for Empowering Parents. The connection you have with your biological kids will remain intact, as it's a special and natural connection.
Institute new traditions to help heal your broken family. Don't attempt to nix old traditions altogether -- kids could see that as your trying to take over. Instead, mix in new traditions. If your stepkids were used to a big family dinner on Sunday nights, you can still have a family dinner, but follow it up with a family game night. This allows stepchildren to feel comfortable in their old routines while enjoying experiences that bond them to their new family situation as well.