Blending two families into a stepfamily takes work, especially during the holiday seasons. To succeed as a stepfamily, the couple must find ways to keep their relationship as the No. 1 priority in the family; it is the foundation for everything else. The first two years of this new marriage have proven to be critical for the couple.
Without this strong relationship in place, stress from raising children, former spouses, job demands, health issues, and finances can all combine, causing the partnership and the stepfamily to fail. Dr. John DeFrain, UNL Professor Emeritus and Extension Specialist says, "Expectations, discipline, working with parenting time schedules, communication and quality time for the couple, the stepparent's children, and the biological child/parent are all on the 'to do list' to building a successful stepfamily."
Here are a few other suggestions for helping a stepfamily succeed:
- Make the couple's relationship the center of your family.
- If possible spend time every day or at least once a week alone with your biological child to ensure they know they're still a priority for you.
- Start a new family tradition by spending special time with each of the stepchildren daily or at least once each week to build trust and friendship.
- Find opportunities to build new traditions and activities while respecting old ones.
- Have family meals together at least once a day with rich discussion.
- Set boundaries on topics that you won’t discuss with the children, such as the other parent or the stepparent.
- Create and post family rules with input from each member of the new family.
- Be sure that every child has a personal space, even if it is a basket in the closet for her/his things.
- Work successfully at blending yours and mine before having a baby.
- Make a plan for visiting extended family members.
- When the children are old enough to understand, work together as a family to make a family budget that everyone can understand.
- Allow children to talk about the invisible parent.
- Let each child grieve the loss of a parent in her or his own way and time. However, if a child's well-being is affected, don't hesitate to get professional help.
For greater understanding, refer to Getting Connected, Staying Connected: Loving One Another Day by Day, written by Dr. John DeFrain and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Family Action Research and Writing Team (2012),and Supporting Stepfamilies – Workbook with Lessons and Activities for Parents and Children