According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 10 per cent of all families in the UK are stepfamilies, and yet there is little understanding of how they differ from traditional families, what the pitfalls of stepfamilies are and how to maximise the chances of success.
Some of the following suggestions may help to make a smoother transition.
There is an expectation that the adults in the stepfamily will become a new mum or dad for the children.
This may well work when a parent has died or is absent from their children’s life, and when the children are little. It will be much harder to implement when the ex is part of the children’s life, and any such attempt may well stoke resentment on their part.
It is helpful if the adults in the stepfamily act as a role model for the children, developing a close relationship based on trust and respect.
It appears to be easier for younger children to be more accepting of a new partner than it is for older ones. Sometimes, time is all that is needed for all the members of the family to grow fond of each other, but at times this simply does not happen.
It’s also important to set realistic expectations: is it really possible for your partner to love your children as much as their own, or for your children to love your partner as much as you?
l Don’t expect your new family to be like your first family.
This would only lead to frustration.
Your new family will have its own unique identity and will evolve in its own individual way, with its own rules and boundaries.
l Help the kids to fit in.
Children of stepfamilies belong to two households. It is understandable that they have questions about where they fit in.
They are usually able to adjust to two sets of rules, as long as they are not asked to choose which is better. It also helps if rules are clear.
l Educate yourselves and seek emotional support.
Read books about managing stepfamilies or seek the help of an experienced relationship counsellor to help you through the rough spots.
l Expect resentment.
No matter how good a parent you are, you will never be your stepchildren’s biological parent. It is natural for a stepchild to feel some resentment for you, especially when you are setting limits for their behaviour.
l Show the children love.
Sometimes children need love the most at a time when it is the most difficult to give it to them. While bad behaviour should never be rewarded, always praise children when they are behaving well.
Anna Dallavalle is a counsellor working with individuals and couples and has a private practice in Morpeth. For information visit www.steppingstonesne.co.uk