The most important aspect of our lives is our relationships
What do you do when you?re ready to introduce your children to your new partner?
This is not a ?one-fix-all? type of answer. It?s multi-faceted and depends on you, your children, your new partner and their children.
Somewhere to start:
Be empathetic ? consider your partner and consider your children. Change is hard. What?s more, both your partner and your kids are use to having you all to themselves. Introducing other people into the mix will mean everyone needs to give a little and be considerate. Obviously, if your children are young, or teenagers, asking them to be considerate and give, might be easier said than done!
Tips for a new partner:
- Defer to the children?s parent
- Yes, it might seem weird to not have the final say about what happens or how things go, but these are not your kids!
- Be considerate of the role their other parent plays in the children?s life. This doesn?t mean that you have to respect their other parent, it just means you?ll need to learn to walk the fine line of supporting your partner with their co-parenting, and figuring out your role in the new dynamic.
- Talk about problems as they arise and be open to following your partner?s direction rather than dictating how you think it should be resolved.
- Get personal with the kids ? learn who they are, what they like, and bond with them on their level. Just because you love sewing or fishing, doesn?t mean your new partners children will love going fishing with you on the weekend they?re with their parent. Get to know them for who they are, and you?re well on your way to developing a relationship outside of being their parents? partner.
- Let the past experiences you?ve heard about the kids other parent stay out of your view of the children.
- Give your partner?s children the gift of their parent. While it?s important that the kids get to know you, and you hang out doing things together, you don?t need to always be involved. Remember, the children?s primary relationship is with their parents ? you?re a deputy, a helper, it?s important to keep this in mind. It doesn?t make you less important, it?s just a different relationship.
- You don?t have to love your stepchildren. It?s okay to never develop a truly deep bond. However, treating them kindly, and doing the best you can for them, will allow your relationship with their parent to grow and ?
- Don?t take it personally. There?s a lot to accept and work through. Your partners children might not like you at first, but that may have less to do with who you are, and more to do with the fact that you exist. Just keep being the supportive, caring and understanding person you are, and you?ve a greater chance of winning them over! Key takeaway ? keep on, keeping on.
- Some research suggests that both boys and girls prefer words of praise versus physical affection and some girls are in fact very uncomfortable with physical affection eg. kissing and hugging from step dads.
Tips for the parent:
- Talk about how you?d like things to be. This might mean an overarching philosophy (eg. Respectful Parenting; Attachment Parenting) or it might be a list of values you both want the children to follow or learn.
- Household rules that include the adults. If they?re old enough, involve the children in drafting the rules. They might have some good ideas regarding chores, consequences for poor choices, and routines, or even who gets to control the television remote!
- Expect less ? or expect nothing! If you go into this with expectations of how it will go and you?ve not discussed it with your partner, you WILL be disappointed.
- Talk about problems as they arise and be open to including your partner?s ideas rather than dictating how it should be resolved.
- Be aware that how you?ve always done things with your children ? including how they?re disciplined ? might need to be a little different now.
- Don?t act inside a bubble ? especially if your new partner also has children. Organising children across two homes can be a challenge, if you?re organising two (or more!) sets of children across two (or more!) homes, things might get chaotic. When you?re making plans, remember to think about who else might need to know what is going on (and when).
Tips for the kids:
- Remind your children that having a new partner doesn?t change how much you love them. It might change some things, but it will never change your love for them. Then, SHOW them with your actions, that it hasn?t changed anything.
- Set aside special time one-to-one for each of your children. Even if it?s only quiet time reading a book before bedtime, that special time between just you and your child will go a long way to reassure them that you?re still there for them.
- Time together as a family is important too. It doesn?t need to be a whole day at the fun park. I might be as simple as a movie night ritual, or cleaning together.
- If other children are also part of the mix, not forcing them to be friends or play together is important. Just because you?ve chosen a new partner doesn?t mean the kids will all get along or even like each other! Letting everyone know that it?s okay, will take the heat and drama out of the equation.
- They don?t have to like each other, but being outwardly unkind works for no one. Keeping out of each others way, might be the best approach.
Some literature suggests it takes anything from two to five years for a step family to really establish itself. The key takeaway here is ? don?t be too hard on yourself, your kids or your new partner. It?s not going to happen overnight, but with dedication, love and consideration, it can happen.
Positive Discipline for Your Stepfamily – Cheryl Erwin; Prima Lifestyles, 2000.
Stepfamily Travel Management – Dr Marjorie Engel; www.marjorieengle.com
Step Parenting and Blended Families – Gina Kemp, Dr Jeanne Segal, Lawrence Robinson; www.helpguide.org