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Ground Rules of maintaining a stepfamily


Divorce and remarriage with children from past and present relationships brings with it many challenges relating to adjustment. The relief of emerging out of a stressful relationship and settling down with a new partner is a joyous event full of expectations. However, the situation is quite different from the kid’s viewpoint. Parents have to realize that it is extremely difficult for the kids to accept the new partner of their biological parent. They are suddenly uprooted from their natural environment and made to step into a new household.

They feel uncertain and have concern about getting along with new siblings, whom they may not like at all. Children often throw tantrums and show disobedience, which may cause frustration to the parent.  The process of creating a new blended family is never easy, but with understanding, love and a great deal of patience it can be a rewarding experience. The whole family can also play table games in order to keep the family together.

These guidelines can help you bond with your stepchildren and deal with common stepfamily issues.

Adjustment Issues

Children of different age and gender differ in the process of adjustment.

  • Young children below 10 years adjust more easily as they are more adaptive to changes.  They are more dependent on parental care as they have more daily needs than older children. However, they demand a lot of attention and may consider their stepsibling or their step parent a rival. Hence, both the parent and the step parent to reassure the child that they are bonded as a family. 
  • Adolescents in the age group of 10 to14 years undergo the most difficult time in the process of blending with a new family.  They are resistant to accept orders from a stepparent. It is difficult to gauge their feelings, as they may not express it openly but need love, affection and discipline at the same time.
  • Teenagers, who are 15 and above are generally not attached to the household of a step family. They prefer to live in their own world. However, they need to feel important and secure.
  • Difference in gender also has different issues.  While boys tend to bond quickly with the stepfather, girls are rather slow. Both boys and girls are uncomfortable with physical show of affection. 

Setting up Ground Rules

Keeping in mind the various issues a set of new ground rules must be set up.  While setting up the rules, the parents must be aware that children may require time to adjust with the new rules as the two different households may have separate set of rules. As such, in order to make the rules effective they should consider every member’s points of view and concern. The rules should be firm and clear and address the expectations of the children and their consequences.

  • The partners of the new family must realize they are starting life afresh. As such, they must concentrate on creating a new bond between the children and themselves. They should not live in the past and avoid any discussions on related topics, particularly in front of children.
  • Both partners must agree on the disciplinary measures and when to execute them. Thereafter, one must to stick it and avoid conflicts. It should be borne in mind that natural parent must take up the role of the disciplinarian. Children may be hostile if they feel that the stepparent is trying to replace one of their natural parents. It is, therefore, important that the child is made to feel that the stepparent is not a replacement but an addition.
  • Favoritism towards the biological child must be avoided like taboo. On the other hand, it is also not a good idea to show too much affection for the stepchild. All children in the household, whether natural or step must treated with equal amount of fairness.
  • Communicate with your natural child often to explain that moving out of relationship does not mean that the parents do not love their children any more. Remember that children will always expect that their own parents will come together at some point time. 
  • It is necessary for all members to understand that the bonded family is a team. Dining together, spending quality time together, sharing experiences, concerns and preferences can quickly forge a happy relationship.
  • In any household privacy is an important matter and must be included in the house rules. Children must keep to their own rooms and should intrude upon their stepsiblings’ room unless specifically invited. 
  • Sometime we tend to forget the sensitivity of our children and we publicly discipline them. Whatever be the matter, the child must be taken aside and told that what he/she has done is not right. This installs a feeling of self-importance in the child and makes him follow the rules better next time.
  • Children should be allowed to behave as children. The parents should understand that the games they play might not match with your idea of maintaining the house. However, the rule is that the child should be told to clean up any mess they create. Children should also be made to understand that they are not supposed to vent the effects of their mood swings upon their stepsiblings. They must learn to manage their emotions or share them with their parents.
  • Sometime the children like to talk about the other parent in a negative manner. This should never be allowed, as the children often subconsciously want to find a crack in the relationship between the parent and the stepparent. 
  • At times you may observe that your partner is treating your child unfairly. In such cases, never support your partner or be a silent spectator. You must take a positive role and defend your child in a manner, which neither shows any lack of respect for your partner, nor let the child feel left out. This goes a long away to win the trust of your child and assures him/her of your continuous love and affection. 

There can be an endless list of do’s and don’ts to ensure in an attempt to plug all loopholes in creating a well-bonded stepfamily, but the stakeholders must note that nothing can replace Love and Kindness.