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Making A Blended Family Work: Part Four

This is the fourth part in a short series of articles detailing a transition from the dreaded step-mom to love-mom.

Remember why you married and keep your marriage strong

Marriage is not an easy proposition. It is difficult to bind your life to another and adjust to the quirks and habits of that other person. Add several children and you have a really difficult arrangement.

Couples who marry for the first time generally put off having children for at least a year of two. They have time to get to know each other and adjust to living together. They spend time with each other exploring their common interests and trying out new interests. They have time for intimacy. They go places together.

When a person remarries or marries someone who has been married before and has children, there is not often time for such pursuits. Getting to know each other and adjusting to living together becomes adjusting to living with each other’s children or with children for the first time. When children are in the home, time for exploring common interests gives way to homework and sports. Time for intimacy may be interrupted by nightmares or request for water. And going out on dates may become family pizza outings.

Making time for such pursuits in a marriage, any marriage, is important to the well-being of the marriage. Just because you have children in the home does not mean you can overlook the necessities of growing the marriage. Your husband will probably be concerned with working and finances. He may not realize that he has overlooked you in the process.

Rather than resenting him and becoming withdrawn and sulky, reach out to him. Help him recapture the feelings that attracted you to each other in the first place. Set aside time to get together, just the two of you, on a regular basis. If you work near each other, meet for lunch on a regular basis. Have coffee before work in the morning. Or stay late one day a week for an early dinner.

If these things are impossible, set aside time each week for just the two of you. If you can't get away, have a late candlelit dinner after the kids have gone to bed. Get up before the children and have coffee on the patio or balcony every morning. If you put your mind to it, you will be able to come up with a plan that will work for you. You do not need to plan long periods of time, you just need a few minutes a day to be alone and spend some time with each other.

It is important that these times alone together are not spent talking about the children. They are to be times where you can tell each other what is going on in your lives, what you are feeling, and how much you love each other. That can never be said enough for either one of you to hear.

There are times to talk about the children, however. You must communicate often about the children. Whether they live with you or visit on weekends, the children will be the focus of much of your life. You will need to discuss how they are doing, how you are relating to them, what needs to be done. You want to be sure that your husband plays an active part in the lives of the children and the only way to do this is to talk about what is happening in their lives as well as yours.

The success of the marriage depends on the success of your joint parenting. If you do not present a united front, one or the other of you will become resentful and that will carry over into the marriage. It is imperative that you communicate regularly and agree on matters concerning the children.

Finances are another area of your marriage that needs to be addressed. More marriages break up because of financial issues than any other reason. When you marry, you need to set guidelines about how money will be handled.

Will your husband be the only bread winner? Will you work? Will all the money made by both of you go into one big pot or will you keep separate accounts? Will you contribute to his child support payments? Will you have money that is yours alone to decide how to spend? These are all questions that need to be answered from the outset. Arguments about money will disrupt the family and make the job of parenting much harder.

Presenting a unified approach to parenting is another area that will strengthen your marriage and let your children know that you are a team to be reckoned with. If you plan your approach to parenting and support each other in your decisions, you will avoid those arguments about the children that can be so devastating to a step-parenting relationship. The children will see a united front and that will bolster their opinion of the strength of your relationship.

Taking time to build your marriage is not taking away from your children. It is modeling for them what a strong marriage relationship looks like. Since the marriage between their mother and father ended in divorce, we can assume it was not a strong relationship. They have no frame of reference for what a good, solid relationship looks like.

By spending time alone with your husband, by showing affection to him in front of the children, by letting them know how important you are to each other and by providing a united front in parenting issues you are showing them what a strong marriage relationship looks like. Hopefully, this will take the place of the image of marriage they have from the failed marriage of their parents.

How does a step-mom maintain communication with her family?

Communication is the key to any relationship. The importance of communication cannot be overstated. You must keep the channels of communication open at all times.

You and your husband should have communicated your likes, your philosophy of marriage and child-rearing and your beliefs and values before marriage. If you did not, do it now. It is so important to the health of your marriage, and to your parenting, that you are on the same page.

Hopefully, you have married someone whose beliefs are similar to yours. In any event, you should have made your beliefs clear to him before taking on the chore of step-parenting his children. If you have strong religious beliefs that affect the way you parent, you need to make sure that you and hubby are on the same page. If not, you could be letting yourself in for some problems, especially with his ex-wife. If her beliefs are not similar to yours, she may have issue with the things you are telling her children. These issues need to be addressed as soon as they arise and you need to be comfortable with the solution.

You and your husband need to keep the lines of communication open with regard to the children. He needs to be informed of any problems as soon as they arise. He needs to know how you feel about the issue, but ultimately, decisions about his children must rest with him. His decision will be tempered by your feelings and beliefs. If you have not made these clear to him, you cannot expect him to meet your expectations.

You must not keep secrets about his children from your husband. It is wonderful if the children feel comfortable enough with you to confide in you, but you must let them know that their father needs to be informed of whatever issues they bring to you. They can tell him, you can tell him, the two of you can tell him together, but he must be informed. You will do nothing to strengthen your marriage by keeping secrets about his children from their father.

We have talked about finances before, but open communication about finances is vital to a good marriage and a successful family. You husband must keep you informed about the finances of the family. You need to let him know if you are having any financial issues. The children should be brought into the conversation as soon as they are old enough to understand the issues.

Children should know of any financial constraints the family has. They should not be left to expect everything that their friends have if the family finances cannot support such purchases. Kids can understand that Dad doesn't make as much as Susie's dad or we have seven members in our family and Billy's family has only four. These are facts of life and nothing to be ashamed of. The earlier children are made aware of these facts, the better prepared for life they will be.

Most men like to talk about actions, not feelings. It may take some time to get your husband used to discussing feelings, but it is time well spent. You need to make him aware of your feelings. The children will play your feelings like a violin. There will be times of great happiness and times of deep depression, all the result of your step-children. You must be able to discuss these feelings with your husband and have his support.

You and your husband must be able to communicate the feelings that caused you to become involved in the first place. It is important to keep those feelings alive and growing. Children can put a damper on romance in the best of circumstances and step-parenting is often not the best of circumstances. So you need to be able to talk things through.

Communication with your step-children is of vital importance to the relationships you are trying to build. They must know what you are thinking and feeling as well as feeling comfortable to express their feelings to you. Honesty in communicating is essential. You should try, at all times, to be honest about what you are experiencing. If you model honesty in your communication to the children, they will have an example to follow in communicating with you.

Ideally, you want your step-children to be able to come to you with their problems as well as their successes. It will probably take some time before this happens, but there are some simple steps in communicating that will help to foster open conversations in your home.

  • Honesty is the most important aspect of communication. If you are honest in all your attempts to communicate with your step-children, they will learn honesty. It is not always easy to tell the truth, but if you strive to do so, they will see that. Be honest when you are upset, when you are feeling hurt, when you don't know the answer. Don't try to fool them, because you can't. They will know and they will lose respect for you.
  • You must insist that all conversations are respectful. Do not let anyone, child or adult, get away with being disrespectful to another. You can't make people like each other, but you can insist that they treat each other with respect.
  • Listen to one another. Teach your children to listen when someone, anyone, is speaking. Listen and acknowledge what the other person is saying. This is another sign of respect. And being a good listener makes one a better friend or partner.
  • • Make sure that conversations are nonjudgmental. Listen without judging and teach your children to do the same.
  • Teach your children to show affection to one another. Little things done out of love and concern for each other go a long way toward establishing positive communication with-in the family.
  • Spend time doing things together. Play games, sports, go on outings. Conversation during times like these are low pressure ways to find out things about your children. They feel more relaxed and the communication is easier.
  • Strive to establish trust between family members. Divorce can create guilt and a lack of trust between parents and children. Coming into the situation as a step-mom, it can be a difficult task to reestablish a sense of trust in the family.

One of the hardest lines of communication to maintain is between families and it will not always be possible, no matter how hard you try. But if you can foster communication between your family and the family of your husband's ex-wife, you will have a much easier time of parenting. If it is possible to discuss things like punishments, bedtimes, schoolwork and projects, sporting events and such and coordinate between families, you will find that step-parenting is much simpler.

If you and your husband can communicate with the children's mother, they cannot play one against the other as easily. They cannot fill your head full of the wonderful (or awful) things that happen when they are not with you. You can let their mother know exactly what is happening in your house. You know the old saying, “I won't believe what they say about you, if you don't believe what they say about me.” If you can discuss what they say, you can usually reach the truth of the matter.

Presenting a united front on all fronts keeps the children from being able to work your emotions to their advantage and keep you off guard. It lets both you and the children's mother relax when they are not with you, knowing that they won't get away with telling tales.

Loving your step-children is not always easy.

You will, undoubtedly, go into this marriage with the best intentions of loving your new step-children. You have probably been spending time with them and already love them. But the times ahead may not be all sweetness and light. What may have been fun times at the park, going on outings, and spending fun time together will now become homework, bedtimes, chores and sibling squabbles.

It may be harder for you to love unconditionally at first. The children may be resentful once you become an authority figure and not just a partner in fun. Be prepared for ups and downs in the level of acceptance your step-children show toward you.

The love you feel for your new family will require a lot of time and energy and it will not automatically be returned. You are making an investment in the future and it will eventually pay dividends, but don't expect those returns immediately.

Your step-children have been hurt by the divorce. They may not trust the love that you show to them or to their father. Depending on where they place the blame in the divorce, on their mother, their father, or themselves; they may have a difficult time accepting you.

Take it slowly. If you show too much love and attention at the beginning, the children may be suspicious. They may think you are trying to impress their father or get on their good side. Be open with the children, be available to them, and be kind and loving.

The important thing is to let them come to you in their own time. Don't push the relationship. Don't gush over them. And don't embarrass them in front of their friends by being overly solicitous. They will respond to you in time. But they have a lot of things to work through before they can totally accept you as a member of their family.

If you can show your step-children that you love their father and that you are sincere and faithful, they will have an easier time trusting you. Loving them is showing them that you are trustworthy. They have been through a lot and they need to be able to trust. Even little things will mean a great deal to them and they will be watching to see if you keep your word about everything.

Loving your kids means valuing them. They need to know that they are important to you, not just someone you got stuck with when you married their dad. Letting your step-children take part in decision making lets them feel important. They will know that they count if you include them in the process of planning and making decisions.

Listen to your children and let them know that you hear them. They need to know that you were young once and you know what they are experiencing. Let them be heard. Even if you don't decide in their favor after a request, they will know that you listened and considered before deciding. That nonjudgmental approach is so important to creating trust and respect in a family.

Encourage your step-children. Children respond to praise and appreciation. Even if it is something as small as, “I noticed you put your clothes away before you went to soccer practice. Thank you so much.” they will respond. Praising children is easy and it is a great habit to develop. It will also encourage them to praise one another. Feeling appreciated is fundamental to knowing that you are a part of a group or family.

Don't try to be sweetness and light all the time. Nothing speaks insincerity louder than overlooking things that really should bother you. Let your family know when they have crossed your boundaries. Let them know that you respect their boundaries and you expect them to respect yours. You don't have to scream and yell. Just explain what they have said or done that displeases you and be done with it. Your step-children don't want a perfect step-mom, they want a real one.

Never confuse your step-children with your husband's ex and never blame them for something she has said or done. They are individuals in their own right. Don't saddle them with the actions or emotions of their mother.

Recognize the differences in children. All children in a family are not alike. Each one has his own talents, personalities and even quirks. They will not respond to you in the same way. Be sensitive to their differences. Don't expect your step-daughter to be open and responsive to you just because her brother is. Realize that it may take awhile longer to win her over.

If you come to the marriage with children of your own, be very careful not to compare your step-children to your own children. They are completely different. And they will show their personalities in their own way. You know the strengths and weaknesses of your children. You naturally view them in light of their strengths. Don't try to compare children that you have not known and lived with since birth to your own children.

Give love unconditionally. Build trust and respect and let them know that you will be there for them when they need you. One of the most difficult things to teach children about unconditional love is that you love them, not necessarily their actions. They do not always see the separation between self and actions. If you can show them that you love them even when they are misbehaving or doing something that hurts you, you will have shown them the true nature of love.

Let them know that you do not love the actions and they must be corrected, but your love is not conditional on their behavior. Give them time to learn to trust and let them come to loving you at their own pace. Don't try to push it. It will happen in time if your love and respect them.

How do I transition from step-mom to love-mom?

Jumping into being a step-mom is not easy. It is even harder to become a love-mom. A step-mom is someone who steps in for the child's mother when there has been a divorce (or death) and the kids are spending time or living with the father. A step-mom is not always a welcome addition to the lives of children.

A love-mom is someone who has earned the love, respect and trust of her husband's children and is welcomed into their lives. She is considered a member of the family and is loved and honored.

Becoming a love-mom does not happen overnight. Many children resent their father's new wife. They may blame you for the divorce, or if not for the divorce, for their parents not getting back together. It is difficult to overcome these feelings of resentment and often takes a very long time.

Earning the respect of children is also difficult. They will watch your every move and celebrate every slip up. Your step-children will not try to make your life and your transition easier. In fact, they may consciously make it more difficult. You will have to prove to them that you are worthy of their respect and that must come before their love.

Young children are much easier to win over. Older children may think that they don't need another mother and they will be especially resentful when you try to do things differently from the way their mother always does them.

Patience is the key. You must be patient with the children and with yourself. Don't try too hard. Let things percolate. When you have gained the confidence of your step-children, you can begin to become more involved in their lives. They may not want you around their friends or their extra-curricular activities at first. But once you have earned their trust and respect, they will be willing to share those parts of their lives with you.

And don't ever try to compete with their mother. Be yourself. Do things your way. Let the children know who you are. They can love both of you, if you don't try to make it a contest between the two of you. If there mother tries to make it such, rise above the fray. Continue being yourself and include the children in your life. Don't worry about what she does.

By the same token, don't try to do things the way their mother did. There may be some things, like a bedtime ritual for a small child, that need to be duplicated, but for the most part, you should avoid trying to do things the same way. Let the children know who you are. Without bringing in too many new things at once, set your own rituals with them. Let them help you choose these rituals. Soon, they will be comfortable with the new way of doing things and they will know that you are not trying to replace their mother.

A step-mom must be special. You are not connected to your step-children by birth. You may not share their culture or ethnicity. But you have to fit in and become a part of their family. They already have the connections; you are the outsider. To become a love-mom, you have to find your own special way of fitting in. Don't try to be everything to them. Don't try to fake the culture and ethnicity or the background. Just be yourself and fit in the way that seems most natural to you. They will respond more to this approach, than if you attempt to be something you are not.

We have said several times that communication is essential in adjusting to a step-family situation. Communication between step-children and their step-mom may be slow in developing. Children may be reluctant to open up to you. But when you have reached the point where they seek you out with their problems, their successes and their dreams, you know you have achieved love-mom status.

When your step-children come to you with problems because they trust you, you know you are doing something right. When they can't wait to tell you about an A they made on a test, about making the basketball team, or about being chosen for a part in a play, you know they accept you. And when they tell you their dreams and aspirations, you know that they value your opinions.

We are becoming a nation of blended families. As the divorce rate continues to hold steady, more and more children are living in two families, shuffled back and forth on weekends and holidays. In order to keep these children emotionally and mentally sound as well as physically strong, there must be step-moms who are willing to trade their dream of Prince Charming on a white horse who will carry then off to live happily ever after for a Prince Charming with a ready-made family.

When you have adjusted your dreams and given your heart and soul to the father and his children to love, honor, respect and take care of and they have accepted you and return the love, honor, and respect, you will truly become a love-mom. And you will know you have arrived when you hear a timid request: “Is it alright if I call you Mom?”


Relationships | Family


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