A vast majority of South African families are blended, which means that a family consists of stepparents and stepchildren. Blended families tend to face a lot more challenges than -regular’ families in that they are often two sets of parents and children who are step- or half-siblings.
The good news is that these challenges can be overcome and families can be successfully blended, if parents as well as kids work together.
Blended family tips:
- Keep it real. Remember life is not as easy as it is shown in Hollywood blockbusters. Kids are not going to automatically going to accept the chances and most children (depending on their age) will have a hard time accepting the new parental figure. If you have recently remarried a divorcee with children or a widower with kids, you are not only marrying the man (or woman) of your dreams, you are marrying a ready-made family. Expect challenges and expect that the transition may not be easy!
- Try not to take it personally. Children can be mean and they can say words that hurt. A child who is dealing with a divorce or a death is angry and hurt and they may single out the newcomer (stepmom or dad) to vent their anger. Children may feel threatened by their mom or dad’s new love interest and they will certainly be threatened by any new additions to the family. With time, this will pass and the hurt or angry child will come to realise that the stepmom or dad’s intentions are good.
- Listen more and talk less. When becoming part of the child’s life, take the time to get to know the boy or girl underneath the angry exterior. Show a genuine interest in their life, their hobbies and in their friends. Take time to earn the child’s trust and really listen to their concerns and their fears.
- Play fair. Never play up kids against each other! Treat all kids in the marriage equally. It may be difficult at first, but attempt to see children without the -step’ prefix.
- Don’t run down the ex. Remember the -dreaded’ ex-wife or ex-husband is still the mother or father of the child. Trying to show up the ex in a bad light or bad mouthing the ex will backfire and will only add to the hurt and anger of the child. No matter how much you disagree with what he or she does – it is not your place to fix it.
- One day at a time. The family members will not live happily ever after, as soon as the rings have been exchanged. -Regular’ families have challenges and it is unrealistic to expect children to automatically love each other or children to immediately fall in love with their husband’s new wife, or vice-versa. Take one day at a time and celebrate each milestone and each challenge as it is overcome! Take setbacks in your stride.
- Set boundaries. Make it clear what you expect and what you will accept. Children are very wise and will quickly manipulate an unsuspecting stepmom or dad, if given the chance. As a rule all kids will push the boundaries to the limits so be clear on what you want and stand your ground.
- But be willing to be flexible. Blended families are a mix of different lifestyles, different ideas and different ways of doing things. What worked in your home before may not work now. It is important to be flexible and willing to accept changes. It may be difficult at first but members of a blended family must be prepared to compromise.
- Pick your battles. Don’t rush into a new marriage with the idea that you are going to set everything and everyone straight! In some cases it may be better to stay in the background and allow old problems to be resolved by the parents of the child or children.
- Spend time together. Set aside a few hours every week (or every month) to do something fun. Enjoying each other’s company and forgetting about ex-partners, steps and halves will give the new family the chance to find activities which they all enjoy. If kids are reluctant at first, don’t force them into activities, they will soon want to join in the fun.
- Start new traditions. Traditions will bring a new family together, so being brand new and fun customs. Use the Christmas season to start a fresh family tradition or start a fun birthday tradition.
- If all else fails seek help. There are some problems and challenges that are too big to work out and it may be necessary to seek professional help. Family counselling will give each member in the newly formed family a voice and chance to air their concerns and their feelings.
Stepmoms and dealing with challenges
Stepmoms have earned the reputation as being -evil’. The reality of the situation is that most stepmoms are kind and loving people (with no evil intentions), who truly want what is best for all their children – step or non-step. There are few – no, there are no stories that tell of the evil -stepfather’ and as such stepfathers generally have it pretty easy!
Dependent on the children’s ages, it usually takes at least three to four years for the dust to settle and members of the blended family to live together in a state of -harmony’. If kids are very young (under the age of 10) the transition may be a lot quicker, as younger kids are more accepting of changes and more trusting of adults. Experts agree that kids who are between the ages of 10 and 14 have great difficulty adjusting and may be a lot less accepting of their stepmom or dad.
In addition to trying to keep the kids happy, stepmoms will also need to work on their marriage. Unlike a traditional marriage where a honeymoon period can be enjoyed, step-parents are thrown into the deep end and will instantly need to take on the role of parents. While trying to earn the kid’s trust and ensuring they are happy in the new family it is vitally important for stepmoms not to neglect their own happiness and to make sure that they spend quality time together with their spouse on date nights or weekends away.