With many marriages ending in divorce, stepfamilies are becoming even more commonplace. Though your may find your family growing in number, cultivating a successful stepfamily takes time, compromise, and motivation.
Traditionally, a stepfamily has been defined as a family where a parent has at least one child not biologically (or legally, in terms of adoption) related to the other parent. This child may live with one biological parent and visits the other biological parent, or he or she may equally split time between both original parents. Other times a child has a lost a parent and the living parent will remarry.
There are many variations of stepfamilies. Whereas the term stepfamily once referred only to married couples, cohabitating relationships where one or both parents had existing children are now recognized as stepfamilies. Grown children, in the case of parental death, will often refer to their parent’s new spouse as a stepparent, even though they never lived under the same roof.
Blended families are also a form of stepfamily. This is where both partners come into the marriage or relationship with existing children. Blended families have many of the same challenges as other stepfamilies as well as unique ones.
As a stepfamily or blended family is beginning the process of transition, there are often some growing pains along the way. Adapting to new routines requires compromise for everyone. Emotions usually run high; guilt over a divorce, anger about sacrifices made, worry about the stepfamily transition, and jealousy between stepsiblings are fairly common responses.
Stepparents may struggle in the transition process to figure out their new roles. Questions over discipline, rule-setting, and household responsibilities are priorities to address. These may cause insecurity and uncertainty in the new stepparent. Parents also worry about perceived favoritism between biological and stepchildren.
Similarly, kids face transitional unrest. Children may feel caught between both biological parents, not wanting to upset either one. In addition, your child will need to learn how to “share” you with your new spouse. Sharing may also extend to their home and belongings if your new spouse or partner moved into your home.
Struggling Stepfamily Signs
With all these changes, stress is at an elevated rate. Here are some key warning signs of a stepfamily struggling with change:
Strategies for Successful Stepfamilies
Tension and family distress do not have to be the norm for beginning stepfamilies. The following suggestions are designed to improve unity within the family:
For Stepfamilies with a New Baby:
While the challenges are very real for today’s stepfamilies, so are the rewards. If your stepfamily is still experiencing growing pains in the adjustment process, ask for help. Family therapy is an excellent tool for working through everyone’s emotions in the transition. For additional help, check out the National Stepfamily Resource Center at www.stepfamilies.info.