Marriage is tough stuff. It takes intentional work to keep the fire that brought you together burning. There will be many times when the fires burn bright and strong and there will be many times when the embers are barely visible or felt. Re-marriage adds extra layers of complications and dynamics and those with kids and exes who are still part of the picture require extra intentional efforts. What are the best ways to make sure your spark roars into a flame? Here are 10 tips for successful stepcoupling.
1) Be realistic. It will never be just the two of you. Your kids, your spouse’s kids, former spouses and in-laws will be part of your new family in some way. Re-evaluate your expectations about how this is supposed to be to how it actually is.
2) Be patient. It takes time to gel as a family unit. The one big happy family may not happen until a few years down the road. So, be patient with yourself, your kids, his kids, and your new spouse. Everyone adjusts to change in their own time.
3) Be Flexible. You won’t always have things your way. Accept that your spouse and your stepkids may have different feelings, styles, traditions and values than you do. Be open to new ways of doing things. Create your own new traditions that you all can celebrate and look forward to.
4) Do NOT personalize or take seriously the negative things that your stepkids say to or about you. Remember the kids didn’t choose this relationship. They didn’t fall in love the way you did. They may be scared, angry, confused and grieving about the changes in their family that they have no control over. It’s safer to be angry with you than their own parents.
5) Learn how to parent your kids and stepkids. While stepkids are different than your own kids in many ways, all children deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. You don’t have to be the disciplinarian right away, build trust first. Relationships make room for rule enforcement. But it’s up to adults to build that trust.
6) Learn how to co-parent. Openly discuss parenting values and family expectations with your spouse. Ideally, this should happen before you move in together. But, it’s never too late to get on the same page together. Work together as a stepcouple team to establish routines, rules and consequences that work for your family. And, if you include them in the process, the kids will feel more invested because they helped make their rules and their consequences.
7) Take care of yourself. Stepparenting often is a thankless job. Acceptance, appreciation and affection may not flow freely from your stepkids, so make time for yourself and acknowledge yourself for your hard work and dedication.
8) Make your marriage a priority. Nothing can come between a strong stepcouple. Difficult kids or contentious ex-spouses can’t divide you. Having a supportive relationship makes it easier for both of you to handle the challenges of stepfamily life. A supportive relationship is the foundation for a strong and successful stepfamily.
9) Listen to and talk with your spouse each day. Invest in and develop your communication skills and work to stay connected. Resist the temptation to point fingers at each other, blame the kids or ex-spouses.
10) Have fun with each other and your kids. Use your sense of humour and laugh together. Often. It presses the reset button when you are feeling stress and tension in your home. It’s easier to build relationships with the kids when you aren’t feeling stressed and so serious all the time.
BONUS tip! Talk with supportive people who understand what it’s like to be in a stepfamily. If you think being in a stepfamily is hard you are not alone! Find support by networking with other couples, by joining a support group or by finding a coach experienced in the unique dynamics of stepfamily life.
Ali Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach and the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.