10 Ground Rules for Step Families
There is no magical solution, but adherence to the following ground rules will bring you one step closer to living in harmony with your stepchildren.
1. Don’t live in the past. One of the penalties of divorce and separation is not seeing the absent family as often as you might like. However, you have a new life and they have a new life. When you have a new relationship and family to think of, you should never allow your first family to take priority.
2. You and your partner must establish firm ground rules in your home, irrespective of how your stepchildren have been allowed to behave in their own homes. When the children are on your territory, you have authority and responsibility for their behavior. Explain to the children that everybody has different rules and that everyone has to abide by the rules of the house they are visiting, in exactly the same way as they have to abide by certain rules at school.
3. You and your partner must agree on a level of discipline and stick to it. Serious conflict can arise when parents have radically opposing views on discipline and what is or isn’t acceptable behavior in children.
4. Don't demonstrate obvious favoritism towards your own children in front of your stepchildren. Consistency and fairness are the order of the day.
5. Accept the fact that the stepchildren may expect their parents to reconcile, (at least in the beginning) and that they may think your relationship with your partner is only a temporary interlude. Sit down with the children when the time is right, and explain to them that sometimes two people who are married may find that they are unable to live together anymore, but that it doesn’t mean they love their children any less. This is particularly important for the parent who has moved out, since the children will inevitably experience a sense of rejection and desertion.
6. Don’t allow your stepchildren to play one parent off against the other. Whatever your feelings towards the biological parent, you should not condone any derogatory comments about that parent. After all, they are probably saying similar things about you or your partner to the other parent. The only time when it is imperative to listen and act is if you believe that the other parent is being abusive in any way.
7. You will never be the biological parent of your stepchildren. Accept the fact that however perfect a stepmother or stepfather you are and you must accept that fact. It is natural for a stepchild to feel a level of resentment towards you when you are imposing rules or restrictions upon them. However, life revolves around rules, wherever the place or whatever the situation, so it has to be explained that it is not only biological parents who are qualified to enforce law and order.
8. Show love. Sometimes children need love the most at a time when it’s hardest to give it to them. While bad behavior should never be rewarded with a cuddle or treat, when children are behaving well it is important to praise them.
9. Don’t be afraid to defend your own children if you genuinely believe that your partner is treating them unfairly. Likewise, don’t interfere and try and condone their behavior if you know that they are in the wrong. Undermining a stepparent’s authority can make children lose respect for that parent. Similarly, if you fail to step in when they have been wrongly accused of something, they may lose respect and faith in you.
10. Set aside special time each week for your partner and yourself. You both need time to be yourselves and to show each other just why you chose to be together.