Jennifer Johnston-Jones, Ph.D.
New step families, it’s a challenging situation but it’s also a place to celebrate. Oftentimes, people hold on to the past and while this is appropriate for children, as adults you need to model the fact that things are different and doesn’t necessarily mean bad. So really it’s an opportunity to express joy as much as possible. It is appropriate to kiss and show and hug and express that kind of intimacy in front of your children with your new partner after a divorce. In fact, that will reassure your children. And if they’re teenagers, you know, they’re probably going to throw some comments in the mix. That’s okay. Bottom line is if you’re happy and are demonstrating that to them, that’s going to give them a lot of confidence. So my first tip is show affection quite often with your new partner.
My second tip is do not force the child to be affectionate with the stepparents. That’s one of the worst things people do. Oh, it’s your new stepdad. Give him a kiss. Give him a hug. It’s very, very harmful on the child. It teaches them to be inauthentic and, oftentimes, they feel disloyal to the parent who isn’t there and it creates all sorts of problems in the child-stepparent relationship.
Please do not have your children call step- mom or step-dad dad unless an arrangement has been made with the other parents. This causes all sorts of issues, all sorts of conflict to the children. If the mother says it’s okay for the stepmother to be called mom, then their conversation has been charted and some of these issues have been addressed with the adults before suggest them to the children. That’s a different thing. But this simply suggest that your child call his stepfather dad or his stepfather mom, it sends a message and it gives them information in terms of that their parent is being replaced, which is the child’s greatest fear when you remarry. So don’t make that mistake.
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