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Twelve Mistakes to Avoid in Stepparenting

Most people go into a blended family situation desperately wanting to make it work. They've previously suffered from a relationship loss, either by divorce or death, and don't go easily into a new alliance, especially because children—theirs, the new spouse's, or both—are involved. But regardless of how hard they struggle with major issues, the men and women who have created and lived in blended families say it often is the little things that trip you up and lead to the big fallout. According to many experts, over half of all remarriages end in divorce.

Below are twelve ways in which people trip in stepfamilies. Become aware of these potential stumbling blocks so you can keep both your balance and your blended family intact.

  • Being impatient

  • Biological families are created slowly, with the couple having time to get used to themselves as a unit and each other's extended family before a child comes into the fold. In a blended family, however, two thirds of the family exists before the newcomer is admitted. The children have finally gotten used to being with one parent at a time since the divorce and don't welcome yet another change.

    Suddenly, the new spouse and addition to the family pops up on the scene. It's like suddenly being the new boy or girl in the classroom or on the team. Everyone else knows the rules and group history but you. Too often the biological parent pushes the new spouse onto a fast track, expecting that the children will automatically fall in love with the stepparent just because he or she did. Just like two positive (or negative) fields of a magnet held together, the kids are repelled to the opposite direction immediately.

    Sometimes it is the new stepparent who wants to "prove" that he or she is going to be a great addition to the family. The stepparent tries too hard for affection and approval, and by doing so, inadvertently pushes the kids away because they feel resentful and guilty about this person who is trying to supplant their mom or dad. The harder the stepparent tries to win the kids over, the more they resist. It's frustrating for the adult who only wants to reach out to the loved one's kids.

    Remember to keep doing those things you did when you were dating their parent, such as bringing little gifts from time to time, occasionally slipping teens some gas money, or arranging some special time alone with the stepkids. Be patient. Love grows slowly, and it doesn't seem to matter if the stepchild is two or twenty.

    "I was twenty-two when my mother remarried," a professional woman said. "My father had died a year ago. His two sons came to live with us too. I terribly resented them all coming into our home. It was ten years into their marriage before I finally accepted it.

    "My stepfather tried to be kind and to be there for me. He even took me to a movie once without the other kids (my siblings and his kids) so we could get to know each other better. The movie was Carnal Knowledge. He thought it was "Cardinal," about Catholic priests. We left after the first five minutes and went out to dinner. But I rejected his attempts to get closer and fought to remain loyal to my father's memory. It wasn't until I was well into my thirties that I realized how much I really liked him and how good he had been to all of us. It made me sad to realize how much time and friendship I had wasted."

    When I asked her what her stepfather could have done differently, she answered:

    "I wasn't very nice to my mother and he tried to protect her. I think it made things worse. He shouldn't have tried to take sides and gotten into the middle of things. He should have encouraged my mother and me to work things out without his involvement."


    From Blending Families by Elaine Fantle Shimberg. Copyright 1999. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

    If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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