Making A Blended Family Work: Part Two

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

How can a step-mom deal with the emotions of step-parenting?

Being a step-mom is akin to riding an emotional roller coaster. There is excitement at the outset, and not a little fear. Excitement at taking on a new job, visions of what a perfect mother you will be to the little ones, and fear for the unknown. Will they like me? Will my husband approve of me as a mother for his children? What about their mother? Will we get along? Will we be able to communicate?

The emotional ups and downs can be exhausting. You need to be prepared for them and have a plan for dealing with them. First and foremost is the relationship with your husband. You must establish open channels of communication. You need to let him know how you are feeling and why. Most men don't really care for these conversations, but they are essential to the health of your (and his) family.

If you cannot maintain a healthy marriage, you have no hope of maintaining a cohesive family life. If your emotional needs are not being met by your husband, how do you expect to meet the needs of his children. Let him know up front that this is something that the two of you must work on constantly. You must feel needed, valued, loved and cared for to provide these supports for his children.

Fear is an emotion that all step-parents experience. Will I be good enough? What will people think of me? Will I make mistakes that will ruin these kids for life? These are the same fears that all parents experience at the birth of their children. They are intensified in step-parents because you are dealing with someone else's children, someone you love dearly and want to please at all costs as well as someone who just might consider you their greatest enemy.

Know that you will be fine. Do the best you can and maintain the channels of communications with your husband, your children and the other mother (if at all possible) and you will be fine. Let go of the fear and remember that you are not alone.

Parenting is frustrating at best. When you are trying to fill the shoes of someone else and have the baggage of their past to deal with, it can be daunting. Children often don't know why they are feeling the way they do and they act out of anger, fear, loneliness or sorrow. You must be prepared to deal, not only with their emotions and the actions that flow from them, but your emotional response to these actions.

When children strike out at you because you are the “step-mom” who is trying to take the place of their mom, realize it for what it is. They don't necessarily dislike you, they hate the situation that they have been put in, through no fault of their own (although they may have the added emotion of guilt). They need to be dealt with, not out of anger, but out of understanding.

This is difficult because of your own emotional response. When they are rude, disrespectful and hurtful, it is difficult to remember that you are the adult and they are just children acting from their pain. That being said, you should never overlook rudeness or disrespect. You do no favors to your step-children if you do not teach them to respect the feelings of others.

As always, open communication is the key to maintaining this respect. Talk with your children. Tell them that you understand and that you respect their feelings, but they must also respect yours. Let them know that you will not force yourself on them and they do not have to love you, but they must respect you.

Giving them the option to love, lets them feel more in control of their situation. And having their respect will give you more control of your situation. After all, many of our emotions stem from feeling out of control. Giving the children a feeling of control, while maintaining your control is a win-win situation.

Even if you are able to establish this respect (which will take time), there will be times when you are crushed by some thoughtless act or word. Often it is best not to address these things immediately. If you can maintain your calm and come back to the deed at a later time (an hour or a day later) and explain your feelings to the child, they will often be aghast at what they said or did. It it was truly a thoughtless act, they will be remorseful. You will have saved yourself the anger or hurt that comes from engaging them immediately and causing them to be defensive about their actions.

All of your emotional issues won't come from dealing with the children. Finances are a hotbed of emotional trials. From a feeling of euphoria when you have actually achieved some financial goal to the depression when the dollar doesn't stretch far enough, the emotional roller coaster ride goes through the house of finances, too. Don't let finances cause your family to malfunction.

Finances are one of the main reason marriages fail. When you have a blended family, finances can become a reason for conflict. You must know what your financial situation is at all times in order to keep the emotional pitfalls from deepening . Make sure that you have a plan and that the whole family (older children included) know the plan and the reasoning behind the plan. This will keep finances from becoming an emotionally charged issue.

One of the hardest emotional issues to face in step-parenting is to realize that you are not their mom and never will be. You can be a major influence in their life, you can control what goes on when they are in your home, you can model the behavior you hope they will adopt and you can love them with all your heart, but you will never be their mother, not really.

They already have a mother and whether they love her dearly or hate her guts, she will always be their mother. You can never take her place. We have all read accounts of children who were horribly abused by their mother, who take up for and protect her. She is their mother. Hopefully, this will not be the case with your step-children. But just know that you will never take the place of their mother.

That being said, you can develop an incredible relationship with your step-children. You can become an invaluable influence in their lives and you can earn their love and devotion. The relationship you have with your step-children is separate and apart from the relationship they have with their mother.

If they have a good relationship with their mother, they have a good model from which you can build your relationship. If the relationship with their mother is less than desirable, you can show them another way of mothering. Either way, you can come out a winner if you do not set yourself up in competition with their mother. Any attempt to compete with the other mother can backfire and create an emotional jungle that you and the kids have trouble navigating.

How do you make being a step-mom manageable and enjoyable?

Going into step-parenting without a plan can be disastrous. You and you husband to be must sit down and talk about parenting. You need to know his philosophy on child-rearing and he needs to know yours. If you are already a step-mom and you haven't had this discussion, have it now!

The biggest trap for a step-parent is too try to parent someone else's kids without knowing how they feel about discipline, rewards, and what behaviors require discipline and reward. If you discuss these topics before you get started and come to an agreement on discipline, reward and exactly what constitutes an infraction of rules, you will have a much easier time of parenting.

Sometimes it is the little things that get you into trouble. We all have our pet peeves and things that really get to us. Make sure you deal with these. Little things can grow into big things if left untended. In my house, throwing the coffee filters away instead of leaving them on the counter or in the sink is a little thing that can cause a big argument. If these pet peeves are known and dealt with, strife over non-essentials can be avoided.

Another trap for step-mom's is dealing with the other family. The best way to handle the other family is to always be positive. Never speak ill of their other mother and her family. This may be very difficult. You may walk a fine line between never saying anything negative and responding to real allegations of mistreatment or abuse.

Listen to your step-children. Let them know that you are there for them, but that you will not respond to griping or complaining about their other mother or a step-father or step siblings. You have no say in how they run their family, you only have control over how this family is run.

That being said, make sure the children know that you will always listen if they have a real problem. If real problems occur, listen and respond without placing blame on the other family. If need be, discuss it with your husband and let him deal with it. It is never in your best interest or that of the children, for you to engage in fighting with the other family.

Always be gracious and above the fray. You may rant and rave to your best friend (remember that we said you needed a confidant who would listen and not give advice) to get it off your chest, but never to your husband or children.

You may have your own gripes about the other family. They may not adhere to visitation rules. They may send kids home with a bag of dirty clothes. They may keep items that you wanted returned with the kids and they may talk smack about you. But you must remember, children do not want to hear their mother talked about in a bad way. They may complain and gripe about her, but they don't want to hear you do it.

Complaining to your husband can cause him to become defensive about the situation. You need to discuss things with him, but do not complain. Simply state the facts and ask him how he thinks it should be handled. A complainer is never viewed in a positive light. So don't be one.

If you remain positive. That will make an impression on your husband and children. Over time it will get back to the other family and they will see that they are the ones being negative. No promises here, but it could have a positive effect on both families.

Time management is extremely important for everyone, but especially for a step-parent. You have to manage your family, your step-family, your husband, your work and yourself and any obligations you have (volunteering, church, friends, etc.). Set priorities, and make sure that you include 'me time' on that priority list.

There are only 24 hours in a day. No matter how you plan them, that is all there is. Make sure that you plan time for you, your husband and your children. Everyone needs some of your time. Homework help, soccer practice, and mall trips (especially if you have teen-age girls) are all important and you need to plan them so that you are not sacrificing something else to get them done.

Things like homework and soccer practice are already scheduled for you, but you have to remember to include in your time plan things like mall trips, play time at McDonald's, birthday parties, and special outings. Let you children know ahead of time that these things must be planned and when you have some extra time coming up, include them in the planning so that they know they are important and they can look forward to time with you.

Your relationship with your husband is the greatest advantage you have in step-parenting. Make sure you work at your marriage. It is difficult to enter a marriage with children or step-children. You do not have the time alone that a couple marrying for the first time without children can expect.

Don't leave it up to your husband to keep the romance alive. He is just as overwhelmed as you are. If he does not make the effort to be romantic and woo you on a regular basis, don't get your feelings hurt and withdraw. Do it yourself! Leave love notes in his briefcase or lunch box. Buy sexy negligees and underwear for your time alone. Arrange to meet him for lunch if possible. Cook his favorite meals when the kids are visiting their mother.

If you make the effort to keep the romance alive, he will probably pick up on it and join in. I have never understood how women can get so upset over forgotten birthdays or anniversaries. I never give my husband the opportunity to forget. I remind him the week before. He doesn't remember dates. I know that about him. So why punish myself by making it possible for him to forget.

In the same way, you should not allow your husband to become complacent in your marriage. Don't let him become so overwhelmed with providing for the family, balancing two families, keeping up with you and the children, etc., that he forgets why he married you. If he gets lost, don't punish him for loosing the way. Take the lead. You will both benefit from it. And so will your children.

Relationships | Family

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