If raising a happy family is tough, raising a happy stepfamily is even tougher. Stepfamilies are usually formed after an unsuccessful marriage or the death of a spouse. Both partners come with a significant amount of baggage, which makes combining families more challenging. In a divorce situation, there is the added difficulties of making consistent rules between two households, including how to negotiate rules when spouse and ex-spouse disagree, all the extra legal issues surrounding custody, visitation, etc. This is why you've often heard couples say that if they knew how hard divorce was going to be, they would have never divorced in the first place!
Creating a happy and successful stepfamily doesn't always have to be a constant challenge. Just like creating any happy family, it's going to take time and effort. Even then, it will have its ups and downs. But It is possible to create a happy, healthy and successful stepfamily. Here are four quick tips from a marriage and family expert to help you do just that.
Create a cordial relationship between households
Quarreling adults usually don't make the best decisions. They usually think of their own self-interest instead of thinking what's best for the kids or the kids' other household. The best thing to do, then, is to not quarrel. Forget about all the bad things that happened during the divorce and try to be friends anyway. That way when it's necessary to make serious decisions, you will both be mindful of everyone's interests and needs (stepparents', bio-parents' and children's').
Support the Stepparents
Stepparents are in the worst role in the stepfamily.They're adults with all the rights and privileges thereof, but they don't get a lot of say about what when it comes to the step children because they're not the biological parents. The courts usually overlook the interests of the stepparents, too. This makes it difficult for them to have the family and household they want. When stepparents make requests about rules or how to handle children, be supportive and try to follow through.
Negotiate important parenting responsibilities with the biological parents
Some things come up that need to be discussed by the biological parents (e.g. values surrounding sex, relationships with relatives, etc). Stepparents walk a fine line between trying to be supportive of their stepchildren and stepping on the other biological parent's toes. Talk to each other about how to handle important conversations that come up, how to handle emergencies and how to handle conversations that just can't be avoided until a biological parent is available (e.g. if a child brings drugs home).
Try to keep consistent rules between households
Whichever family has the children on the weekdays are the ones that are going to have the most ability to make family. But the weekend parents might feel left out when the weekday parents make decisions that they didn't know about - they might even disagree on the rules. That's a recipe for trouble. Include both households on parenting decisions so that there is consistency between the two homes and to ensure that the children are getting consistent messages at both places.
These are just a few quick tips to help you create a strong, healthy and successful stepfamily. There are too many issues within stepfamilies that usually need more individual attention, but following these four tips can give you an overall guide to help you foster a stepfamily that is happy for everyone.