Parenting in a blended family can be challenging and emotionally stressful. To help understand some challenges a stepparent may face when parenting in a blended family and for tips on step parenting in a blended family, I have interviewed therapist Ann M. McCabe, LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
” I am a licensed Marriage/Family Therapist specializing in individual, couples, and family therapy . After years practicing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I now maintain a private practice in Cape May, New Jersey. My therapeutic approach for the past 20 years has focused on the theories of Contextual Family therapy, an intergenerational model, considering the legacy of loyalty, fairness, trust, and accountability with, and between generations. This approach considers these issues in present and past relationships. With this model as a backdrop, I work with client’s current conflicts, as well as their root causes. In addition to general practice, I specialize in family-of-origin matters, blended family concerns, adoption, and issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals, couples, and families. “
What are some challenges a stepparent may face when parenting in a blended family?
“The following are some challenges a stepparent may face when parenting in a blended family.
A child feeling caught or split in his /her loyalty can cause lots of tension. If one of the parents speaks negatively about the stepparent, the child/ren will not feel free to enter a relationship with the stepparent.
The timing of when the child/ren meets a stepparent. If the meeting comes on the heels of learning about their parent’s divorce, or at a time when life has not settled down for them, or following the family break up, then children may not feel ready to open up to a new significant person. This may be especially true if the children may think that person is the cause of their family’s breakup such as in the case of an affair.
If the stepparent has other children, and now the parent’s children fear, their mother, or father will be attentive to those children. This may be a fear of abandonment, real or perceived.
If the children do not live with their parent, then the distance can pose a challenge. If the children only see that parent occasionally, they may not want the stepparent included in their limited time with their non-custodial parent.”
What are common mistakes a stepparent makes when trying to parent in a blended family?
“The following are some common mistakes.
The stepparent is a trusted partner to his/her significant other (SO), but a stepparent will need to build trust with the SO’s children. Trust is earned, not assumed. Children need to get to know the stepparent, and discover if that stepparent has their best interest at heart.
A stepparent should not start out parenting their partner’s children. There are exceptions when there are very young children that may need care giving. Older children will not consider Dad or Mom’s SO a parent figure at first. This is another timing and trust issue.
A stepparent may try too hard in the beginning. Kids can ferret out disingenuousness a mile away.
If the stepparent has children, then he/she may find it very difficult to treat all the children fairly. This is only natural, but still may present a challenge to blended families.”
What type of impact can those mistakes have on the stepparent child relationship?
“The following are some examples of what type of an impact those mistakes can have.
Trust-building can get short-circuited.
Marital tension can result.
Children may split the parents
The children may not want to live in the household, or visit the non-custodial parent.”
What are some step parenting tips you can give that would help blended families have a successful relationship?
” The following are 12 step parenting tips.
1. Approach your partner’s children like any new relationship, not an extension of your SO.
2. Show an interest in the child/ren. What do they like, care about? What is their favorite food etc.?
3. Find out what rules your SO used in the past regarding parenting and discipline.
4. Discuss these issues separately with your SO, and agree to what works for both of you.
5. Come to an agreement about how you (the stepparent) and your partner will agree to follow through with all agreed-upon house rules.
6. Have the parent introduce what he/she expects in this new family structure. This should be introduced with a full appreciation that children will have their defenses, and it may take time for them to warm up to the fact that their parents are not getting back together.
7. Agree that the child/ren’s parent is the lead parent, and sole disciplinarian. This is especially important in the beginning. As you (the stepparent) build your relationship and trust with the child/ren, a more active parent role may be possible. This does not mean that the children can walk all over the stepparent when the other parent is not around. The stepparent always has a side, and can assert their personal authority. ‘I would like you to turn the TV down’ ‘I need you to help me get dinner ready.’ All these basic household rules and guidelines should be communicated and set up initially by the children’s parent.
8. Do not let the children split you (the stepparent) and your partner.
9. Allow time for the parent and children to be together without you (the stepparent). That will demonstrate to the children that you are not trying to ‘hog up’ all the time with their parent.
10. Find special things that you and the step child/ren may enjoy outside of their parent.
11. Form your own special relationship that is unique to you and the child/ren.
12. Demonstrate that they matter to you, and it is not only their parent that you love. This takes time.”
Thank you Ann for doing the interview on step parenting tips for blended families. For more information on Ann M. McCabe or her work, you can check out her website on http://www.annmccabetherapy.com .
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