Keys to Creating and Nurturing Successful Stepfamilies

By Ginsberg, Susan | Work & Family Life, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Keys to Creating and Nurturing Successful Stepfamilies


Ginsberg, Susan, Work & Family Life


We start off as stepparents full of hope and confidence that we can successfully create a harmonious, blended family, though we recognize that stepfamilies are complex and challenging. After all, they involve our own and our partner's kids, sets of inlaws, former inlaws and exspouses. In fact, most stepparents say that the process of creating a new family turned out to be harder than they had expected.

At this point, there are more than five-million stepfamilies in the United States, with a thousand-plus new ones being formed every day. And as Elaine Shimberg, author of Blended Families (Berkley), says, "There is no One way fits all' for stepfamilies. Each is unique, with its own composition, personalities and possibilities."

There are similarities as well, and many helpful suggestions and rips can be learned from the experiences of others.

Have realistic expectations

Smooth-running stepfamilies don't happen overnight. When parents are asked what they wish they had known before becoming stepparents, most respond that they didn't need to feel guilty because they didn't love their stepchildren right away.

Shimberg points out that it takes time to trust outsiders, who claim they don't want to replace "real" moms or dads-especially when kids have been hurt by a divorce or the death of a patent. It also takes time, she adds, for a stepparent to learn a "family's code-their inside jokes and references."

Authors Judy Ford and Anna Chase (Wonderful Ways to Be a Stepparent, Conari Press) found that stepparents who tried to replace a stepchild's mother or father were disappointed. "But if they were willing to. . .listen for what the children really needed from them, they were able to forge a relationship that worked," they wrote.

Move slowly with stepchildren

Approach the formation of a new step family as you would the first stage of any ' new relationship. Jann Blackstone-Ford, author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents and founder of bonusfamilies.com, a website for stepfamilies, adds: "Often, divorced parents are so happy to have found love again that they dive right into the relationship, and when the fog lifts, they're living with kids they barely know and may not even like." And stepparents who have no children of their own are the most likely to jump in too fast.

When parents remarry, it can be hardest on the children-because it means their parents are not getting back together. Stepkids also worry that Dad will love his new wife more than he loves them, says Blackstone-Ford. …

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