Being a step parent has unique challenges that are
not present in other family situations. To create a happy blended family, you must
balance respect and love with discipline and understanding. In this article, you will
learn what it takes to create a happy home environment for your blended
When a single woman with children marries a single man with children, this union
should be viewed as more than the union of husband and wife–it is the joining of
two different cultures. Each family is a tribe unto itself and if this union is to work,
each step parent must respect the other family’s dynamics. Family dynamics are
often as different as night and day. This is why you must come to grips with the
idea that you have two different tribes living in your house.
So how does this work in a blended family? Before I answer that, take this first bit of
step parenting advice and appreciate the power of the birth family. Recognize that
your spouse is probably always going to be closer to his children than to yours.
Know that if you constantly criticize your spouse’s children, you are creating the
beginning of the end. Blood loyalties are usually stronger than marital ties. Although
this may change over time–and one day, you may feel as close to your step children
as your own–the process takes time and experience and only occurs when a
supportive, loving environment has been created first.
The next piece of step parenting advice is to respect your spouse’s family dynamics.
For instance, you may have a rigid children-do-not-talk-back rule in your family,
while your spouse may be willing to listen to what his children have to say and even
negotiate with them. If you try to impose your rules on your step children, especially
when they are rules they did not grow up with, they will rebel. When this happens,
they may use their father’s love for them to drive a wedge between you. It happens
subtly at first and you may not notice what is happening, until it is too late.
Although you are the adult and you have more power, never underestimate the
power of a child. Where possible, try to compromise parenting styles, as long as you
both agree to help each other act from this compromise.
If a situation escalates, allow your spouse to discipline his own children, while you
attend to yours. When he is disciplining his children, refrain from joining in or
agreeing through words or body language. Be a silent bystander, so the child won’t
feel that two adults are ganging up on him.
The next piece of step parenting advice may seem odd to you–expect your step
children to hate you. When I say “expect,” I don’t mean that you should turn
expectations into reality, but that you must understand that children of divorce
usually want nothing more than their birth parents to get back together. Regardless
of how you met your spouse, on some level, your step children may despise you and
blame you for her parents being apart. This is normal child behavior and has to do
with the child’s limited perspective and understanding of adult
The child may also fear that you are trying to replace her mother. Assure her that
you are not. Realize that in the child’s eyes, you may never be considered as more
than an aunt. Accept this role graciously. If your step child likes you, she may also
feel conflicted. She may feel that expressing love toward you is equivalent to
betraying her mother.
Rather than focusing on the conflicts in your home (and there will be conflicts),
invest your energy in creating good times. This doesn’t mean you need to go on
expensive trips or outings, it means you work to create a peaceful environment.
During the good times when everyone is happy, bonded and relaxed, you can gently
and positively bring up the difficulties and ask your children, step children and
spouse what they can do to help resolve the problem. In this way, you make
everyone part of the solution.
One of the biggest difficulties in a blended family is that family members have
different needs. When you need something, ask for it, rather than complaining and
criticizing others for not giving it to you. If you ask for what you need or want, your
family members will be more receptive and responsive than if you harp on them or
expect them to meet needs you have not expressed. This is a good piece of advice
for any family, blended or not.
Perhaps the most important piece of step parenting advice is to strive to be more
reflective, insightful, compassionate and humane. Focus on the areas in which you
need to grow as a parent and a human being and your children and step children
will follow your lead.