Avoid the holiday step-stress

Christmas season is here with us. The joy and excitement of the holidays is so real. Family and friends coming together to celebrate the birth our Lord Jesus as well as the years accomplishments, ups and downs. Its a time to celebrate, a time to learn from the year behind. Warm fuzzies everywhere. Perfect right? Not quite. You see the holiday season can be quite stressful for step-families. It’s a reminder of the loss in their lives, it’s a time of conflict over various holiday matters for the bio/step parents involved, the children might dread the holiday season, they might act up or be rude due to the emotional strain.

For those in step-families here are 10 tips to help you enjoy this Christmas Holiday;

Have a plan

Planning is the key to having a smooth and pleasant holiday season. With every step-family there is usually more than one home involved. It’s therefore important for the co-parents to plan in advance. Which holiday will the kids spend with whom and for how long? This should be done way in advance in order to iron out early enough any colliding schedules.

Consider the children’s need. The kids never choose to be in a step-family and the also struggle with it just as you do so consider what they would like to do for the holidays. Be flexible and sensible for example if you have them full time and they would like to spend more time with their other parent allow them to do so without making them feel like they are asking for too much.

What about the gifts?

The best part about holidays is the gifts. Children can be particularly fond of this part. It’s therefore important that parents (bio or step) ensure that the gifts given to the children are equal. There should not be any excesses as this creates a feeling of favoritism which can be a source of conflict for both the parents and children. Parents should be able to sit down and agree when a major gift is involved.

Work out everyones role and responsibilities 

Agree on the roles and responsibilities of the children and grown-ups wherever it is that they will be spending the holiday more so if the holiday will be spent at home. Children thrive in an environment of direction and predictability. It also builds their sense of responsibility and parents should be keen to praise when the roles are performed well.

Let the children help with the festivities for example putting up the tree, decoration, helping with some cooking, setting the table, singing carols, dressing up in costumes etc. these are fun activities that everyone will enjoy and get them in the holiday spirit

Respect

Respect and civility is important especially in cases where holidays will include everyone. Exes should act respectfully toward each other. Any conflict only hurts the children and creates a dull holiday spirit.

Don’t forget about parenting 

Its easy to overlook parenting and discipline during holidays. Do not tolerate bad behavior and manners. If you need to put your foot down or even punish a child for something unacceptable do it. Holidays are no exception for good behavior.

Create your own history and memories 

The holidays are great opportunity for you to create some family rituals, instill good morals and behavior. So think of something that you can do every holiday season. For example everyone can take turns to say something they are grateful for that year, family lunch with everyone where each members cooks something etc. whatever tickles your family’s fancy

Be grateful

Make sure to thank everyone for their contribution to making the holiday special. Thank Mum, dad, step-mom, step-dad and children (bio and step) for making it a blessed day.

Finally, make sure you have loads of Fun. After all it is the holiday season right?

Have yourselves a fantastic Christmas Holiday!

Married to widower? Tips for a better relationship with his children

Last week we looked at some of challenges that women face when they marry a widower. The transition can be challenging for everyone. As a stepmom to his children how do you best handle this complex and emotional family situation? The truth is, there is no single answer to this; simply because grief is a very personal experience, not forgetting that it never quite goes away but is re-experienced with the presence of certain triggers. That said here are a few tips will help you and your family move past the hurt and challenges to a comfortable place of love and acceptance.

Embrace your feelings

There is nothing wrong with you. No you are not weird and neither is your situation. If anything, it is perfectly normal and all step-families of this nature go through this.  Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to feel what you are feeling! Many women suppress their feelings because they want to appear as the perfect stepmoms while deep down they are hurting.  Bottling things up only makes the situation worse and builds resentment towards your partner and your stepchildren.  The very same people who you are trying to have a relationship with. Deal with all situations with your partner and protect family.

Build a rock solid relationship

Your relationship with your partner determines whether you will make it through or not so make sure it is rock solid because the journey really is rough. Realize you are marrying him and his children, they come as complete package.
You will have to embrace and love the children as they are a part of him and you have to be all in, otherwise do not bother yourself as it will only lead to more heartache and loss. If you and your partner commit to your relationship and to being a family, to making it work despite all the issues and you give it everything you have got, you will definitely reap the reward.

Allow your children time to grieve

The children’s biggest fear at this time is that their deceased mother is being forgotten. Seeing their father moving on with you will make this fear even greater. You need to address this fear and allow them to grieve, work together with your partner and step-kids to find appropriate ways of honoring their departed parent and help them to remember her significance. Don’t be afraid to talk about the loss and the parent that has died, speak freely about them, allow them to take  a trip down memory lane whenever they feel the need to and listen to them carefully when they do. Allow them to celebrate anniversaries such as birthdays and the day their mother passed away. This will communicate that you respect their parent and how important they were in their lives. It also demonstrates to your stepchildren that you are not trying to take their mothers place.

Step down

It’s normal for stepmoms to feel pity on their stepchildren, to want to help them overcome this loss and make them better people. Its not unusual for stepmoms to desperately want to build a good relationship with the children but this will obviously take time. A lot more time than many anticipate. When the children pull away from you or openly reject you, your natural instinct will be keep pushing, trying to force them to see that you are a good person who is only looking out for their best interest. This usually back fires. As counter intuitive as it may sound it important to know when to back off, especially when it comes to the children. Give your stepchildren the space to allow them to get used to the idea of you.

Patience! Patience! Patience

If you have ever lost a parent, then you know that it changes your life forever. Take things slowly and be patient with yourself, your partner and his children. Remember that they are adjusting to a very difficult situation and it will not happen overnight. The sting of death never quite goes away, you just learn to accept and live with it as time goes by, therefore accept that your stepchild’s time scale will be completely different from yours or your partners. You need to be ok with this. Not taking things personally but realizing that each situation will present a different challenge that will need to be addressed slowly, with patience and in love.

 

 

5 things no one tells you about marrying a widower

One type of step-family dynamic that we don’t seem to talk or hear enough about is being married to a widower. There is a notion I have heard from ladies when it comes to this subject matter. Many of them believe that its easier to marry a widower than it is to marry a single dad or a divorcee. The main reason being of course that there will be less stress because the ex in this case is no longer alive so there is no bio moms to battle with, no child custody or visitation issues, no child support and so on. However, the women who have been in this position, women who have dated and married widowers will tell you its a whole different ball game. They are clear that it’s not as easy as people will make it out to be. They confess that supporting a grieving partner and stepchildren is an uphill task and that they do face serious challenges in their new families.

What many stepmoms in this kind of situation forget is that grieving the loss of a loved one is a very personal journey. For some, it’s brief, they seem to move on pretty fast and get on with life as usual while for others, it’s long and onerous. Your partner will be grieving and so will his children. The kids may grieve differently from their parents and a lot of it will be influenced by the kind of relationship they had with the parent they lost. That is why our stepchildren may react very differently to us once we step in as new parents.

So what is it that couples in this kind of family need to know, look out for and handle graciously in order to provide everyone with a comfortable transition? From my work with stepmoms who are married to widowers the following five challenges are common and you will experience them should you be in a similar relationship.

A guilt ridden partner

When my dad passed on, I found myself thinking of what I could have done better or changed while he was still alive. I felt guilty. Guilty I didn’t call as much as I could have, guilty I didn’t take as much care of him while he was alive and more so when he was taken ill, guilty I didn’t visit him at the hospital in what would have been out last afternoon together. I should have been more patient with him, a little more aggressive with his doctors. I could go on and on. The list was endless. I kept feeling that there was always something more that I should have done. If you have ever lost someone dear to you then you know exactly what I am talking about.

Its not different in the case of a widower. They are bound to feel guilty about some things they did or did not do while their partner was alive. They may try to compensate for it in other ways either personally or through their children. For example, a dad may worship and adore his children more than ever to compensate for not being supportive of his wife or children, before her death. This may in turn affect parenting or discipline. He may not be able to say NO to his children when he needs to and this affects his relationship with his new wife.

Grieving stepchildren

Children tend to be a couple of steps behind the adults when they lose a parent. Not all the children will grieve the same way or learn to live with the loss at the same time. Some children may take this out on the newly introduced partner especially if the relationship is perceived to be too soon. Grieving stepchildren are not sure how to take the prospect of having a new parent figure. It feels like a betrayal to mom if they do and chances are they will feel that their dad is also betraying her by marrying you hence their rejection of you.

Living up to an angel

When someone dies, we tend to elevate them to some sort of sainthood. Our minds block out any bad they did and chooses to recall only the good. This means that when you come in as a stepmom the children will compare you to a perfect image of their mother and so will other members of the extended family especially those from moms side. So how on earth do you live up to an angel? How do you respond to constant comparison and always playing second best? All this adds on to the stress and strain of your relationship with them as well as your partner.

Extended family and friends that disapprove

You may endure a long list of opinions offered up by extended family and friends. These opinions may not always be positive. In fact some will be downright disrespectful and hurtful. You may be compared to the mom at every turn and no matter what you do never measure up. Some may make it very clear that they do not approve of you nor do they accept you into the family.

Living in a home that you didn’t choose 

There are cases where your partner or children or both are against the idea of moving to a new house. Their old home has more sentimental value now that “mom” is no more. Its not a surprise that they would want to hold on to it to uphold the memories and special moments shared in it. As the new wife you may find yourself with no option but to move in to this home that has memorabilia that serves as a continual reminder of your stepchildrens mom and this may present some challenges for you. Simple things such as redecorating, moving paintings or family pictures, packing and putting away moms old stuff may cause serious conflict between you and your partner and or the children.

All these are dynamics that you have to deal with when you marry a widower. The earlier you become aware of them and discuss them with your partner early in your relationship the better chance you have to avoid some of them or be well prepared to tackle them should they materialize. In next weeks blog we shall explore how you can overcome these challenges.

If you are dating or married to a widower what was your experience like? What challenges did you face, how did you overcome them and what advise would you give ladies who are in similar relationships? I would love to here from you. You can share by commenting directly on this article or write to me wendy@livinginstepafrica.com

 

 

 

 

The ABC’s for stepfamily life

A is for a fresh start . It can work but you will require extra effort and wisdom to make a strong family.

B is for blood, which is thicker than water. Don’t compete. Rather strive to compliment the already existing relationships.

C is for co-parent . Do this effectively, your children need you to be the adults you are supposed to be.

D is for discipline, your children need your guidance and training that will correct and mold their character. 

E is effort, you will have to put in work and time to build and maintain healthy step relationships. 

F is for fear of failure, beware of it to overcome it.

G is for God, he will pull you through it all. Trust in him.

H is for homes, there will be more than one and the kids need to feel wanted and loved in every single one of them.

I is for information, learn all you you can about stepfamilies. 

J is for jealousy. Beware of the green eyed monster and the damage this can have on your relationship.

K is for keepsakes, build them.

L is for love, your greatest weapon, generously use it all day everyday.

M is for marriage. Your family is only as strong as your marriage so make it a priority.

N is for new beginnings, forget the past and start working towards a better future, embrace the journey.

O is for open up about everything, the good, the bad and ugly and be ready to roll up your sleeves and make things better.

P is for plan, for visitation schedules, finances, co-parenting structure, family holidays basically every aspect of family life. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed.

Q for is for quit second guessing yourself.

R is for respect each and every member of your new family as a minimum requirement 

S is for sharing, your love, time, your life.

T is for trust, develop and nurture it.

U is for unfairness, be careful not to fall into this trap especially when it comes to the children.

V is for values. What values does your family live by?

W is for work, work work on your relationships everyday.

X is for ex spouses, you can’t wish them away, learn how to co exist respectfully.

Y is for YOLO, life is too short to sweat the small stuff, have fun, laugh out loud and let no one drag you down.

Z is for zip it. If your words will destroy rather than build up, keep it to yourself.

Want to learn more about stepfamily life and what to expect? Download a copy of my free ebook ‘The truth about stepfamilies’ HERE

I am tired of being a stepmom

“I am tired of being a stepmom. I feel guilty confessing this to you but I am really tired. This job is hard and no matter how hard I try it never gets easier. Am I bad stepmom for feeling like this? Is this normal” ? These are the words in an email I received a while back from a lady who was 2 years in her journey as a stepmom. She did not give me any indication that she wanted to leave her husband or abandon her stepchildren, she was just concerned about the fatigue that comes with being a stepmom. My first reaction was pride, because so many stepmoms would rather keep up appearances and pretend that there is absolutely no trouble in paradise than admit that they are struggling. I could relate to her because I have had my fair share of doubt. Moments in which I would question myself and my abilities as a stepmother. Moments of confusion where I wondered what the hell I was doing and whether I was on the right path. Times when I doubted if there was anything I was doing right. Days I wished I had a magic wand to make all things perfect so I never had to worry about anything ever again. If you are a stepmom and you are completely honest with yourself then you have had similar moments.

exfighting

Sometimes stepmoms just get worn out and tired. It is perfectly normal, nothing to feel guilty about. How you deal with the fatigue however will determine whether your situation gets better or it takes a turn for the worst.

So how does one know that they are experiencing stepmom burn out? Well there are quite a number of triggers which if you conscious about, you can identify and deal with before things get worse. I have put together the following list of questions which you should ask yourself. Though it is not exhaustive it is a good guide to determine your mental and physical condition as a stepmom.

  • Do you feel like you bear all the responsibilities of a mom but with none of the authority or appreciation?
  • Do you feel like you are at your wits end? Annoyed you don’t know what to do next?
  • Do you feel manipulated by your husband, his ex, your stepkids?
  • Are you tired of seeing your partner being manipulated by his ex or his kids?
  • Do you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter despite your contribution in the home?
  • Do you question why you are doing ‘this’?
  • Do you feel like an outsider in your own home?
  • Do feel like you have no control in your own home?
  • Are you constantly fighting with your partner?
  • Do you feel like your partner doesn’t defend you like he should and/or gives in to his ex, his children too easily?
  • Do you feel lost?
  • Are you uncomfortable at home, during school functions and family events?

If your answers consists mainly of yes then it would be prudent if you took a step back and realize the kind of pressure that you are under and make a plan to do something about it before things get worse. All these issues may look small but over time they have a way of weighing down on you and slowly making you numb and before you know it you could care less about your family and most likely take it out on your stepchildren which leads to further stress and strain to all the family members.

What do I do now, you might ask.

1.Accept it, own it

Stepmom burn out is a normal occurrence especially if you are still new to it and still adjusting. Let go of the guilt because it is what prevents you from seeking the help you need to get through these tough times. Once you accept that you are tired then own it. Identify what exactly you are tired of and why. It helps to make a list and see which ones are attributed to you, your partner, his ex, the stepchildren. Once you are aware of the source, it makes it easier to start dealing with each one of them and find a lasting solution.

2. Ask for help

There is no shame is asking for assistance when you need it. Many stepmoms feel obligated to do everything and do it perfectly. They feel like they have to be there for everyone, all the time, lest the world thinks of them as “evil”. This is especially true for full time stepmoms who are responsible the day to day care of their stepchildren and feel like their efforts are not being appreciated. In between attending school events, picking and dropping your stepchildren from school and other extra curricular activities they are involved in, helping out with homework, house work, your own work in the office, your duties as a wife, your family and friends, its not surprising that one would get tired.  When you feel burnt out ask for help from your partner, your family or professional help if need be. You will be surprised to find people who are ready and willing to assist you. Keeping a healthy balance of all that is going on in your life helps you to maintain your sanity enabling you to give your family the 100% it deserves.

3. Accept what you cannot change

Some of the issues that you identify may be beyond your control. Its important to know what these issues are and let go of them. If you have tried and you are unable to change a situation its better to let it go. Holding on only stresses you further and steals your joy. Shift your focus on the things that are working and adopt an attitude of gratitude.

4.Girlfriends, girlfriends, girlfriends

Whether you just need a safe and secure space for you to share your experience openly without fear of being judged or you just want take a break from it all, let your hair down and have some fun, your girlfriends will always have you covered. Take some time off and do something for yourself, something you enjoy doing that takes you to your happy place. This will go a long way in rejuvenating you and giving you that well deserved break

If you are already a stepmom, and you are struggling with stepmom burnout and would like help specific to your situation write to wendy@livinginstepafrica.com and she will be ready to assist you. If you would like to learn more about what to expect when it comes to raising stepfamilies download a free copy of her ebook “The Truth About Stepfamilies” HERE

 

 

How to let your step-kids know you’re not a threat

When I first met my stepchildren I thought we would get along like a house on fire. You see, for one year while I was still dating their father I had soaked so many stories about them. He spoke so fondly of them, like all parents do about their little ones. You know that feeling when you have heard so much about someone that you feel like you already know them? That’s exactly how I felt. The only thing missing was for us to meet and I couldn’t wait. “Boy would they love me” I thought. We would have so much fun together from music, to video games, dancing, lets just say I had a fool proof plan in my head. Never did I once think or even imagine that they would not warm up to me.

My much anticipated day came after a dinner date with their dad. He asked me whether I was ready to meet the kids. “Of course I am ready, I thought you would never ask” I remarked and with that the wheels were in motion. For the first time I spent the night at my boyfriends house. It was pretty late when we got home, obviously the kids were fast asleep so I would get to meet them in the morning. And so it was that morning. We were introduced to each other and it was nothing like what I had imagined. There was an awkward silence after the initial greetings. I did not know what to do with them and they had no clue what to do with me either. My daughter looked at me from head to toe with curious eyes not knowing of what to make of this new lady who had spent the night in their home. I have never felt more intimidated in my life. Today when we look back we have a hearty laugh about all of it but trust me, back then? it was no laughing matter. My son simply said hello and continued watching tv and that was it, much to my dismay.

The subsequent meets did not get any easier. In fact it took about 3 years for all of us to get to know and appreciate each other and even more importantly for them to realize that I was not a threat to their relationship with their mother. You see that’s the main reason why children are skeptic of stepmoms. They do not know how to react to your presence. If they love you, they feel like they are betraying their mother. Its therefore important for you communicate the “no threat” message with your words and most importantly with your actions. So how do you do it?

Here are a couple of things I learnt on my personal journey that set the right foundation for me to have the great relationship I enjoy with my children.

  1. Allow the kids to spend time with their parent without you being present

When you first meet the children they don’t know where to place you. They were used to one mommy and/or one daddy. You are an extra person whom they have no idea where you fit in. They have to share their parent who is now your spouse with you in terms of both love, affection and time and it may not be easy to adjust to that. At least not instantly anyway. In a bid to bond with the kids most stepmoms want to be there for everything. Every single visit and time daddy spends with the kids they make a point to be present. This works against you as it only increases the feeling that you are stealing their daddy away from them. There should be a balance between the time you spouse spends with the children alone and the time spent with you.

Intentionally stay away for some of the visits if you are dating or if you are married set some time apart and let the children bond with their parent alone.  If you also have children of your own do the same with yours as they slowly adjust to sharing their time with others. It might seem counter-intuitive but this allows the children first to maintain the bond they shared with their biological parent when they were single and secondly to let their guard down and stop seeing the step parent as competition. With time you will find that you can now spend longer periods of time together as one.

  2. Accept to be background action for a while.

Before you came into the picture the family had their own way of life, a shared family history which you are not a part of. This is what makes stepmoms feel like outsiders in their own homes when they start out. Do not let this discourage you. It will take time to build your own new family traditions and memories that include you as part of the family. In the meantime get comfortable with being background action for a while. You see how in a movie scene of there is always the main characters who you focus on as the main story tellers then you have some extra people in the background who make the scene look more realistic. That will be you for a while, an extra person in the background. Some things will happen and you feel like you don’t exist. Like you need your effort and contribution to be recognized, and when you are not acknowledged your natural reaction will be to be more aggressive and show everyone especially the children how much you love and care for them so that you can win their affection, love and respect and not appear to be the “evil” stepmom.

The truth is that it takes time to develop the relationship and bond with the children. It may take a year or even longer so be patient and be comfortable being in the background. Do not feel guilty about not doing the things that typical parents do. When your stepkids become comfortable with you they will invite you into their circle slowly by slowly to the point where they recognize and respect you as a parent; but you cannot force your way through, they have to invite you.

For as long as I can remember my daughters school morning routine would end with a very adorable, heart warming goodbye to the dad. She would stand at the foot of the stairs and call out “Daaaaaad! have a great, wonderful, marvelous, successful and blessed day today” and she would stand there and wait until he responded in the same manner. If he mixed up the order of the words he would have to start it all over gain until he got it right. Then she would go to school. I heard this ritual every morning for a long time but I was never a part of it. Then one day as I lay in bed listening like I always did, after dad responded she said “tell Wendy I said the same”. I was overjoyed. Finally! for the first time in what seemed like forever I got my morning goodbye. I became part of the ritual. The same was to happen for the first time they said I love you, the first time they invited me for a sports day and many other activities that I initially did not take part in.

   3. Allow the kids to freely express their love for their mom

If you are full-time stepmom like me it means the kids live permanently you and then visit their mom occasionally based on the arrangement. They will automatically miss her and miss spending time with her. Its not easy for them because they are usually torn between liking you or God forbid loving you and loving their mother. If you insist on being treated just like their mother simply because you do the everyday mommy responsibilities in the house then you are in for a rude shock. You cannot and will never compare to mum no matter how good you are or how bad she is for that matter. The same rules just don’t apply. If you are incessant about it, you put them in a position where they are conflicted between loving you and being loyal to their mum. They will always choose to stay loyal to their mother.

Its therefore important for you to show them that you do not have an issue with them openly and freely spending time with and loving their mother in your home. Allow them to talk freely about their mum, their experiences with her and other family members like their aunties, uncles and grandparents. If they want to hang pictures of her in their room allow them to do so, along with many other gifts that they may receive from her. These are important for them since they do not get to see her often. What this does is that it tells them that you are ok with that relationship and you support it and in turn they let their guard down allowing themselves to be open to knowing you a little better.

4. Show genuine interest in your stepchildren

Children have hypocrite antennae and can smell a fake person from a mile away. They will know if you are genuinely interested in them and care for them or you are just faking. It’s not enough to love their dad. You have to genuinely care for them. Stepmoms may find themselves buying their way into their step children’s hearts through gifts and all manner of treats but it more often than not backfires on them. You cannot buy you stepchild’s love and respect. You have to earn it and the only way to do that is to start showing some genuine interest in who they are and the things they love, passively to begin with then more actively depending on their reception. In your interactions with them try and spot areas of common interest and activities that you can do collectively with all of them and those that you can do with each child individually.

In my case when we first started out, I would sit with the kids and watch Disney channel for an hour or so as they watched their favorite shows. There no conversation, it was not comfortable sitting there in silence but I did it anyway. What it said to the kids was “I am interested in you and what you do” and slowly it opened up avenues for random chit chat. After that I discovered my boy and I both loved cooking so we would exchange recipes and I got more involved in his cooking activities. The girl loved to dance and as luck would have it I had an Xbox so we would  play Dance Central on some afternoons and switch it up with FIFA for the brother so everyone was happy. Doing this helped me bond with them without the added pressure on them and me as well.

Don’t be afraid to let out the inner child in you. They already have a mom and dad to take of the serious stuff and that leaves a lot of room for fun stuff with you. Don’t pass up the opportunity.

5. Treat all children equally

If you and your partner both have children from a previous relationship ensure that you treat all the children equally regardless of their age and sex. The same rules need to apply to everyone. Make sure to communicate this verbally to all the children and make good on your word should anyone flout the rules. Children are very sensitive and they will quickly pick up any favoritism you apply. If you are going to get gifts make sure you get something for everyone. Older kids tend to be left out with the assumption that they will understand. They don’t. They are still children with different needs but still having the same craving of love and attention that little kids display.

These simple but powerful choices can enable you create the right perception of you, your role in the family and open up avenues for healthy bonding. They confirm that you are not there to compete or replace mom but you are another loving care giver and friend. A neutral third party that the children can turn to for anything they might be comfortable sharing with their biological parents.

What worked for you and what totally backfired in your journey as a stepmom? I would love to hear it, just leave a comment down below and if are already a stepmom or are dating someone with children from a previous relationship and you would like to learn more about what to expect when it comes to raising stepfamilies download a free copy of my ebook “The Truth About Stepfamilies” HERE

 

Why you are not getting along well with your stepchildren

Having a great relationship with my stepkids is something I thank God for everyday. It’s a blessing that I do not take for granted. People who have had the opportunity to meet my children and I are shocked at the great relationship we have. My own husband is amazed at just how well we get along. What no one realizes is that it did not happen overnight, neither was it handed down to me on a silver platter. There was a lot hard work behind the scenes, a lot of sacrifices, deliberate choices I made, disappointments and tears and lots of God’s grace. Despite it all, I stuck with it even when sometimes every inch of my body wanted to run away. I pressed on through my self doubt and every single setback that came my way. Giving up was always an option, but it was never my choice. I eventually found my freedom in that which I was not, their mother.

Children are at the very center of any new blended family. They tend to get forgotten because the couple is so in love, optimistic and ready to start the new life with their new partner. It’s important to always remember that all step-families are born out of loss. Your partner lost a husband/wife and the children have lost either mom and dad through separation, divorce or death. It is difficult for the children to deal with this especially since all children have an innate need to have their parents together regardless of their age. The truth is children are usually many steps behind when it comes to dealing with the loss of one or both parents and therefore it takes a lot of time to adjust to having a new parent; the step-mom or step-dad in their life.

Not all children adjust at the same time. It’s not surprising to find that one child warms up to the step-parent faster than his/her siblings. In my case, my son took a lot more time to adjust and accept me compared to his little sister. Other factors that affect this period of adjustment and new family formation include the ages, stages and sex of the children. Its key to always remember that all children need loving and trusting relationships and it is up to biological parents to reassure them of this through words but most importantly through their actions as well.

Not all kids will warm up to you at the same time

Here is what to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. It will help you understand your child and their behavior toward the stepparent enabling both of you to respond and react in a manner that will foster good relationships for everyone.

What to expect by gender:

Girls will often be uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from a stepfather. Therefore do not take offence as a stepparent. It’s not a rejection of you as a person. As the mother do not push your child to hug or make other physical gestures that they are uncomfortable with. With time they may come around to doing it but it’s also possible that they never do. Do not take it personally.

Both girls and boys prefer verbal affection such as compliments to physical affection like hugs and kisses. Try and stick to this. The children will generally guide you so go with their pace. When I first got to know my stepchildren I made the mistake of telling my daughter “I love you” after a telephone conversation. There was dead silence on her part. That is when I realized that although our relationship had grown, she was not yet ready for that so i refrained from saying it ever again. One day though during our usual bedtime rituals she hugged her dad and myself and said “I love you”, naturally I assumed that was for the dad so I remained silent as he responded. To my shock, she stood there and said “Wendy, I said I love you” and waited for me to respond. Moral of the story? Let the children set the pace for the relationship, all you have to do is follow their cues.

Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do. It may take stepmothers a longer time to be accepted simply because its a lot harder for children to accept another mother figure.

What to expect by age

Children Under 10:

At this age children are usually very open and tend to be more accepting of new adults. Usually easier to for a stepparent to form a relationship with. They may also adjust more easily to the new family setting because they usually have a strong desire for a complete family. At the same time they are prone to competing for their parents love, affection and attention.  A stepparent may feel like they are in some form of competition as they too are seeking the attention of their partner. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this love and affection. This works to your advantage since the children slowly stop viewing you as the threat, the person who is stealing mummy or daddy.

Being younger of course means that the have more every day needs and therefore will require attention of the biological parent.

Kids between 10 and 14 years:

Children in this age group have the most difficulty adjusting to step-family. This is because they already have a strong relationship with their biological parents. They also had a great deal of family history before the parents split. This means that they require more time to get over the loss and additional time to bond before they can start accepting step-parent and getting in line with the new family norms. They also take longer to adjust to the stepparent being a disciplinarian so slow down on this one, let their mum and dad take the lead on this.

At this age children will not openly demonstrate feelings yet they will also be the more sensitive ones compared to younger children. They need more love, support, and attention than younger kids so it’s up to dad and mom to constantly reassure them of their unwavering love and support despite the new family arrangements.

As a stepparent be patient, and don’t push them. Slowly work on forming and building a relationship with them.

Teens

They are just discovering themselves and usually slowly move away from family life. Their involvement becomes less and less as they try to form their own identity. It tends to be more difficult to form a relationship with them as a step-parent so please be patient. Try to find things you have in common that you can do together. They also need to know and feel loved, they need to be secure even though they will not openly express it. Reassure them as you would younger children

Adult children

Contrary to popular belief, they do not understand the new family arrangements and share the same issues as younger children.  They feel betrayed by a parent’s decision to remarry, they too desire to have their parents together. If they are in the same age bracket it makes it even harder to accept the stepparent. They may hate seeing displays of affection between their bio parent and the stepparent. Pressure from the bio parent to accept their new love is also difficult to cope with.

Having been in the family for so long, letting go of the family history is extremely difficult. Since they have moved out of the nest, with their own careers and maybe even their own family life makes it difficult for the stepparent to establish a relationship since there is no day-to-day interaction. Other factors that come into play are inheritance.

The best thing to do is to give them time as well to adjust the new situations. Being adults also means that they have the capability to step up and proactively work on establishing a relationship with a stepparent. The biological parent should explain their actions, why they love and need their partner and request their child to understand and respect their decision. After all they are human too. And just like all human beings they need a companion, love and happiness.

I hope this has helped you gain some insight as why children may act a certain way when a stepparent comes into the picture and how you can respond and act or help your partner and children reduce the friction during the transition.

If are already a stepmom or are dating someone with children from a previous relationship and you would like to learn more about what to expect when it comes to raising stepfamilies download a free copy of my ebook “The Truth About Stepfamilies” HERE