Children are most affected by the loss of their first family and they usually don’t have a choice when joining a blended or stepfamily. It is facing these challenges the stepparent begins working to create a bond with their new stepchildren.
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Nowadays, schools have moved away from the traditional teaching of the family as the basic unit of society made up of the father, mother and children – all biologically related. Times have changed and with it the traditional lessons we once thought would stand the test of time must now be revised. The blended family has recently exceeded the nuclear (biological) family in number. In some cases one of the biological parent’s is no longer at home through either divorce or death and the remaining parent remarries. There are also situations where children from two different families are joined together to form a new family a la Brady Brunch. These blended or step families are now today’s norm.
Naturally, the most affected with the changes involved in becoming a new blended family are the members. Children especially experience great difficulty in adjusting to the new set-up. Remember for a child the stepfamily is borne out of loss – the loss of their first family. Many children become hostile or indifferent. Their grades begin to suffer or they start hanging out with the wrong crowd. Of course this doesn’t always happen but if it does it is important for the parents to address the child in a unfied way that the child will still feel loved and they still belong.
How can you as a stepparent form a bond with the children of your spouse? First, understand establishing a bond is a gradual process. Manage your expectations expecting the minimal success and yet hoping for the best. With consistent and continuing efforts kids who may seem distant at first may eventually yield and warmly respond to your sincere attempts to build a genuine relationship with them.
Stepchildren have the same needs of any child they want to feel safe, secure, valued and loved. Take the time to show them you can be counted on and looked up to as a good role model. Make your presence felt and treat them like your very own kids while at the same being careful to avoid acting like their Dad. Expand your affections and attentions to include your stepchildren in addition to your spouse and biological children. You can do this through simple things like:
Communication. Ask the children how their day went and what they did. You can do this casually during mealtime or while watching TV in the family room. Allow your stepchildren to express their fears, emotions and insecurities without judgement. No matter how brief the interval, spending time alone with your stepchild is an essential tool for cultivating trust. Involvement. Be involved in their interests. For example, show support and encouragement when your artistic stepkid finishes a painting or when the athletic one makes the school’s basketball team. Also, you can eventually invite them to do something fun together that is connected to what they love to do – playing video games, taking them to a movie they want to see, shop for clothes, etc. Also, no matter how brief the interval, spending time alone with your stepchild is an essential tool for cultivating trust.
Discipline. In the early going the biological parent should be the sole disciplinarian. Together both parents should develop a household set of rules and conduct. The couple must discuss rules, standards, consequences and a system of discipline for the children. Then the biological parent with the stepparent present can communicate this to the children presenting a united front. Throughout this period the stepparent should not turn a blind eye to negative behavior of the children because they will feel that you don’t care at all. The stepparent should give simple and firm reminders of the rules without being harsh or coming on too strong.
Transparency. Be open and honest at all times. Let the kids know you understand how they are feeling and you are hoping everyone can work together to build this new blended family bit by bit. Yet, you have to be careful not to rush them. Let the children set the pace and wait as long as it is needed. Eventualy, they will learn to appreciate your efforts and may discover you are actually a great parent they can trust and respect.
By engaging in these activities a stepparent is opening the door for a positive, strong and healthy relationship with their stepchild. This does not mean there are no pitfalls or setbacks and the child will accept you with open arms 100% of the time. Be happy and grateful for the littlest accomplishments you make. Prep yourself up for the difficult journey ahead and make sure you do not lose your cool even when you feel like giving up or you become very frustrated with how things are going. It takes a tremendous amount of work to create a fresh bond in a blended family, especially when there are painful wounds in the heart that need time to heal.
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