The Nine Steps to Stepfamily Success
Patience is hard, especially when you're in the middle of day-to-day family crises. One thing I can promise you: Things change. Sometimes change requires a lot of work, and sometimes profound change comes when you least expect it.
The only thing certain is that things later will be different from how things are now. Change takes time. Your new baby stepfamily is going to grow, change, and develop, but you must have the patience to allow that to happen.
As you look toward your stepfamily's future, think about the areas you would like to change. Think about your dreams. Take some time alone to think about and complete the following statement: In five years I'd like to see this stepfamily….
There is no right answer, but writing down your hopes can help you move toward a plan.
Stepping in as a stepparent is emotionally risky and draining. It is very easy for you to start taking care of everybody else's needs and ignore or set aside your own. You are no good to anybody if you do that.
Take care of yourself. Take time to check in daily and see how you are feeling. Sometimes that means asserting yourself to make sure you are being shown respect. In her book The Assertive Option, Patricia Jakubowski says that parents (in this case, stepparents) have some very basic rights. I've adapted them here. As a stepparent, you have the right to:
- Act in ways that promote your dignity and self-respect, as long as others' rights are not violated.
- Be treated with respect.
- Say no without feeling guilty.
- Experience and express your feelings.
- Take time to slow down and think.
- Change your mind.
- Ask for what you want.
- Do less than you are humanly capable of doing.
- Ask for information.
- Make mistakes.
- Feel good about yourself.
Don't stepparent for duty. Don't stepparent for thanks—you don't get points. Do it because you love, need, and want your partner, and the kids are part of the package. Do it well because it's always better to do something well than poorly.
After the Steps
Take a deep breath and look toward the future. While you're being patient, there are a number of things you can do to speed up the process of building a successful stepfamily.
Take a Long-Range Perspective
Building a strong, viable stepfamily takes time, some say from three to seven years. (My friend Ernesta says wryly, “Yeah, I'm stepmother to an 11-year-old. In seven years, she'll be out of the house anyway.”) Try to be patient.
Develop New Roles and New Rules
When remarriage or re-partnering happens and children are involved, there is terrific upheaval in everybody's life. Pain, confusion, and loyalty conflicts can abound. It's clear that society's mythologies about stepparenting and stepfamilies are largely negative or unachievable. Yet people in step relationships desperately need a sense of direction. It's time for new roles, for everybody in the family.
Do an Internal Balancing Act
As a stepparent, you've taken on a difficult task, and it's important to keep your head and nurture yourself. This means treating yourself nicely.
Be Giving and Forgiving
Stepparenting is your opportunity to be the best person you can be. There are lots of possibilities for failure, which means if you succeed, how sweet the taste of victory!
In families of all kinds, family situations can get sticky, and stepfamilies are more prone to awkward moments than most. When things get complicated, sometimes the only—and the best—way to deal with them is to laugh. Laughter is physically good for you, and it helps diffuse family tensions. Develop your sense of humor. Try to see it all as the plot line of a particularly bad Brady Bunch episode (that will make you laugh!).
More on: Nontraditional Families
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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