Jennifer Johnston-Jones, Ph.D.
What are some tips for remarriage and stepfamilies? 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 for remarriage and stepfamilies, is show affection quite often with your new partner.
There is a sort of a hierarchy when it comes to step parenting and although as a stepparent you might feel left out sometimes and second tier to the child’s birthmother or birthfather, that’s normal and that’s something that you need to accept. And there are some issues where especially if you come in later in life when the teachers are teens, you’ll never fully win them over and that’s okay. Stop trying to please. Stop trying to be another parent. Being a stepparent is entirely different than being a parent and just accepting that. It’s very, very important. And although if the mother is giving you parenting instructions that you don’t agree with, ultimately, you need to follow those because you are the stepparent.
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.
The last tip I have for remarriage and stepfamilies is to co-parent and that is to come together as a team. Bring in your husband or wife that you divorced. Bring in your husband or wife that you recently married. How are we going to work this together? Instead of two parents there are now three. As a stepparent, your role is essential and you need to recreate that role in the relationship. What kind of a stepmother or father do you want to be? How will having a stepchild affect your relationship with your partner? So these things all need to be discussed in the open in an awkward way usually with the person your partner divorced. No one wants to do this. But it’s the most helpful meeting you’ll have and if you simply get together once, even if there’s lot of animosity and anger, if you can manage to do it, it’s going to save you years of frustration.
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