Remarriage involving children from previous relationships can make for a challenging situation. Two major life events are happening simultaneously; the new marriage is finding its feet and at the same time the children are negotiating through an unfamiliar family. This includes the biological parent, the step parent, the other biological parents, biological children, step siblings, and potential half siblings. That’s a lot of individuals with their own perspectives, needs and baggage! Forging new relationships and creating healthy boundaries can take time, learning through trial and error, and a whole lot of patience. Here are 5 tips to help ease the journey:
1. Discuss Parenting Philosophies Before Remarrying.Define what’s important and especially the “how” regarding discipline, responsibilities, religion, education, homework, chores and child-related financial obligations. Know where your soon-to-be-spouse stands on these issues and identify where compromises may need to be reached.
2. Be Realistic. Relationships are complicated and require flexibility, understanding and good will. And they take time to develop. In all likelihood, your children and /or stepchildren have experienced some upheaval during the divorce process and may be view the new the new marriage with some anxiety and fear. They may worry about betraying their loyalties to their other biological parent by bonding with a step parent. And expect to hear, “You’re not my mother/father.” Expect (but don’t tolerate) some attempts at manipulation. Until the dust settles, there may be power struggles and alliances that arise. It will take time and lots of hard work to look like the Brady Bunch.
3. RESPECT. Biological parent blood is thicker than step blood. Therefore, the ultimate responsibility for discipline rests with the biological parent, especially in the first year or two. It’s important to encourage their children to speak and act respectfully toward their new step parent, but also support the authority of the step parent over the children. For the step parent, taking the time to earn the love and affection of your spouse’s children will foster their future respect for your authority. Respect should also be shown for the biological parent who is not in the home. No disparaging remarks! Make decisions regarding the children between you and your new spouse and any other adult involved before sharing it with the children.
4. COMMUNICATE. COMMUNICATE. COMMUNICATE. Consider setting up regular times to sit with your spouse and talk about parenting and family issues. Focus on productive planning and be open to hearing what is and isn’t working.
Encourage One-On-One Time. It is important for kids to have some alone time with each biological parent, as well as the new stepparent. Although supporting time with your spouse’s ex may be challenging, it sends the message your stepchild’s happiness is important to you. The more love there is to go around, the better!
By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW. Deirdre is a members of the Alpha Resource Center’s Resource Directory and has a private practice in Doylestown, PA