Blended families, families that combine due to remarriage, are becoming more and more common in our society’s landscape. When families are blended, many relationships change. The parent and step-parent enter the relationship voluntarily; the children didn’t. As adults, it can be easy to overlook or discount the effects that remarriage can have on children of all ages. These changes, coupled with the changes already occurring in their adolescent lives, can be very stressful. Step-parents may find themselves disappointed or surprised when their expectations for familial harmonies are not met. What follows are some key points to remember as a step-parent.
~ A step-parent is not a replacement for a biological parent. Whether the absence of a biological parent is through divorce or death, the absence of that parent is often felt acutely by the children at the time of remarriage. Sharing the only parent left with the new spouse and/or new step-siblings can be difficult and will take time. Do what you can to schedule time for the children and the biological parent without you as well as with you. Remember, to plan time for you and your spouse alone as well!
~ Step-parents must cope with children who have been socialized by another set of parents. Since step-parents typically weren’t a part of the child’s life from infancy, rules, parameters, and expectations that you, as a step-parent may think are “no brainers” may not be to your step-children. This often causes friction. You may want to try a family meeting approach where all parties involved have a say and both you and your spouse are seen as a unified entity when it comes to house rules. Be prepared to explain or justify why you want things done “your way”.
~ Step-parent roles are rarely defined clearly. Step-parents are neither parents nor friends. Often, efforts to take over the parental roles are rejected by adolescents. As a step-parent, you can’t just be a friend because you have assumed parental responsibilities: support, physical care, recreational opportunities, and being a presence at school and events. In short, step-parents often are shouldered with all of the responsibilities of parents, but realize few of the privileges and satisfactions. This is one place where it is essential of you to have open communication with your spouse. Work to define your role together and attempt to balance it between the two of you as much as possible.