Friday, November 4, 2011

Finding Love After Loss: 5 Tips for Successful Step Parenting

"Although stepfamilies rarely make as smooth a transition as the Brady Bunch,
it is possible to successfully blend a family.
It depends on how and when you start and what you put in the blender."
~Kela Price

If you are in a relationship that is headed towards merging your two families, you are about to enter the world of step parenting. It is a world that can be very rewarding, but don’t expect all the members of the family to meld immediately. It takes lots of time, love and patience to build a healthy and working step family entity.

Here are 5 tips to help you make the transition.

1. Don’t take things personally. This is the same advice I gave you when it came to dating. Not everything is about you! Children are very hurt by their parent’s divorce and they can act out in childish ways. A step parent is a very easy target at which to direct their anger and fear. Choose the high road and don’t engage in battle with the children. Be constant; be steady; be there as a role model of decorum and grace under pressure. Children take note of all behaviors, and they are watching you very carefully to see if you will respond or react to their shenanigans.

2. Limit your expectations. This is another piece of advice I gave you in regard to dating. It takes a long time to get to know someone, and your step children are no different. You will set yourself up for disappointment if you rush the get-to-know you process and expect a love fest to take place simply because you are now married and living together as a family. Think about this process as dating your stepchildren! Engage in the activities you would normally do when you start dating, for example, exploring who they are and what they like and discussing their hopes and dreams. Moreover, have some fun with them because this can foster the growth of good feelings.

3. Set boundaries. I recall my younger son talking to his soon-to-be stepbrother about boundaries. He told this boy, “I don’t know where my mother’s boundaries are; I just know I’m not going anywhere near them!” Having raised him from birth, my son inherently knew my every nuance and could read when he was approaching the danger zone. Step children do not have the same benefit, so you must be very clear and specific about your boundaries.

4. Take care of yourself and your marriage. Don’t let children (yours or his/hers) come between you and your new partner. Children usually have no shame and they will use all the tools at their disposal to get their way, including guilting you into letting them do something you normally would not. Additionally, make sure to take care of yourself on all levels so you can cope with the added stress of step parenting. Allowing yourself to reach a point of overload will be of no benefit to any member of the family.

5. Ask for support. When you embark upon a task you have never done before or about which you know little, what is the first thing you can do to help yourself? Research! Read some books, take a class, consult a professional or ask friends who have step parented for advice. No one expects you to be an expert on this subject and know exactly the right thing to do. However, you can prepare yourself as best you can in order to be successful. 

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