Life with a new spouse and stepchil­dren can be full of un­ex­pected chal­lenges. SASHA GON­ZA­LES asks the ex­perts for tips on the se­crets to mak­ing it work.

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Cover Reads -

Fac­ing the chal­lenges of life with a new spouse and stepchil­dren.

When you marry some­one who al­ready has kids, it can be daunt­ing try­ing to ad­just to your new fam­ily. Just ask au­dit man­ager Melinda*, 37, who be­came an in­stant mum to 10-yearold Ben­jamin* and eight-year-old Sophia* when she mar­ried their fa­ther Peter* last Septem­ber.

Peter had been di­vorced for three years, and Melinda was wor­ried that she would not be able to match up to his for­mer wife. “I was afraid that my stepchil­dren would think I was in­fe­rior to their mother. I wanted them to re­spect me, es­pe­cially when they vis­ited their dad and me on week­ends and had to fol­low our rules at home.”

Ben­jamin and Sophia were ini­tially de­fi­ant, ig­nor­ing Melinda when she asked them to make their beds and set the ta­ble, and throw­ing tantrums when she scolded them for mis­be­hav­ing.

“Peter kept telling me to give them time,” Melinda shares. “He tried to in­ter­vene a few times but they were de­fi­ant to­wards him as well. When Ben­jamin told me he didn’t have to lis­ten to me be­cause I wasn’t his real mother, I got re­ally up­set. Peter told him off for be­ing rude and now I feel that Ben­jamin re­sents me. I don’t know how to talk to him about it and Peter told me to just leave him be.”

Ad­just­ing Takes Time

Heike Berens, a re­la­tion­ship coach from Heike Berens Re­la­tion­ship Coach­ing in Aus­tralia, says that no mat­ter the age of the chil­dren, and whether you or your spouse are wid­owed or di­vorced, it’s im­por­tant to pro­ceed gen­tly.

“It takes time to cre­ate a suc­cess­ful step­fam­ily,” Heike ex­plains. “The kids may be at dif­fer­ent stages of grief for their pre­vi­ous fam­ily. If their par­ents are di­vorced, they might be hop­ing that their par­ents will re­unite, or they might still be mourn­ing the death of one of their par­ents. When the new step­fam­ily forms they may have trou­ble com­ing to terms with it, even though you and your new spouse are ex­cited about your fu­ture to­gether and just want to move for­ward.”

Heike sug­gests putting your­self in the chil­dren’s shoes to get a bet­ter idea of what they may be feel­ing. “Un­der­stand­ing where they’re com­ing from fos­ters com­pas­sion and that makes it eas­ier to find a so­lu­tion to­gether,” she points out.

Pa­tience, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and em­pa­thy are key to deal­ing with the chal­lenges. Ex­perts of­fer ad­vice on some of the main is­sues you’ll face – as a bi­o­log­i­cal par­ent or a step­par­ent – in a step­fam­ily:

When It’s Your Kids

CHIL­DREN’S JEAL­OUSY Your lit­tle ones are not happy be­cause they feel they have to com­pete for your time and at­ten­tion now that you have a new spouse. So­lu­tion: Af­ter Marie’s* hus­band passed away from can­cer, the 42-year-old teacher re­mained sin­gle for five years be­fore re­mar­ry­ing in 2011. She says that her sons, aged nine and 11, hated their new step­dad from the start. “The older one, Keith*, acted up in school to get my at­ten­tion,” Marie shares. “To make things worse, my hus­band Mar­cus* didn’t re­ally at­tempt to change my sons’ minds about him. He would say, ‘If they don’t want to get to know me, what can I do?’”

When Keith’s grades be­gan to suf­fer, Marie sought fam­ily coun­selling. The ther­a­pist sug­gested that Mar­cus and Marie spend time with the boys, sep­a­rately and to­gether as a fam­ily unit. Mar­cus was also asked to try to be more un­der­stand­ing to­wards his step­sons.

“It took a cou­ple of months for thing to im­prove,” says Marie. “Now, my boys are more ac­cept­ing of Mar­cus and they get along bet­ter. Mar­cus and I are also able to spend time to­gether as a cou­ple with­out my sons try­ing to make me feel bad about it.”

When It’s His Kids

FILL­ING SOME­ONE ELSE’S SHOES You’re the “in­fe­rior” step­par­ent the kids didn’t grow up with. How do you stop com­par­ing your­self to their mum and feel more se­cure in your role? So­lu­tion: Stop look­ing at it as a com­pe­ti­tion be­cause you will lose. “A step­par­ent is an ad­di­tional par­ent or adult who can help care for the kids,” says Lisa Dood­son, pro­gramme di­rec­tor for psy­chol­ogy at Re­gent’s Univer­sity Lon­don and a spe­cial­ist in step­fam­ily re­la­tion­ships.

“He or she can also be some­one the kids turn to when they need a lis­ten­ing ear. What you can be is a fan­tas­tic role model for your stepchil­dren. So, rather than fo­cus on what you’re not, fo­cus on all your great qual­i­ties – this will re­ally im­prove your sense of self-worth.” BUILD­ING A CLOSE RE­LA­TION­SHIP You get along well with your stepchil­dren, but you want to feel more con­nected to them. So­lu­tion: Brenda Hooper, a cer­ti­fied fam­ily me­di­a­tor and step­fam­ily coach from Step By Step Me­di­a­tion Ser­vices in Van­cou­ver, says you shouldn’t force it be­cause if the kids aren’t ready, they’ll pull away.

But there are strate­gies you can use. Take an ac­tive in­ter­est in the kids’ lives by ask­ing ques­tions about their hob­bies and dis­likes, says Brenda. At­tend their school and sports events. Later, give them pos­i­tive feed­back on how they per­formed, but don’t give sug­ges­tions un­less they ask for them. You can also cre­ate new fam­ily rit­u­als, such as Fri­day movie nights or Sun­day breakfasts – con­sis­tency is es­sen­tial to help­ing kids feel se­cure in re­la­tion­ships. Fi­nally, in­volve the chil­dren in house­hold chores.


You’re not sure how far you can go when it comes to keep­ing your stepchil­dren in line. And what do you do when they com­plain to their mum or dad that you were mean to them? Also, if your spouse is the step­par­ent and you don’t agree with cer­tain rules of his, should you al­low him to dis­ci­pline your chil­dren? So­lu­tion: If you’re not the bi­o­log­i­cal par­ent, then early on in your mar­riage, it’s best to take the lead from your spouse when im­pos­ing dis­ci­pline. “Try­ing to in­stil dis­ci­pline when there is a very weak re­la­tion­ship and low lev­els of trust and re­spect is a recipe for fail­ure,” says Lisa. “But once you’ve had time to build a re­la­tion­ship with your stepchil­dren, it’s im­por­tant that you feel you can be in­volved in dis­ci­plin­ing them.”

If you have house rules, don’t be afraid to en­force them. It’s im­por­tant to be con­sis­tent with all the chil­dren and on all oc­ca­sions.

To find com­mon ground with your spouse, Heike sug­gests dis­cussing val­ues, par­ent­ing styles and ex­pec­ta­tions to­gether.

In­tro­duc­ing new half-sib­lings

You’ve just had a child of your own with your spouse. Your chil­dren or stepchil­dren feel jeal­ous that at­ten­tion is fo­cused on the new baby. How do you re­as­sure them? So­lu­tion: “In­clude the chil­dren in the care of the baby and in­volve them in de­ci­sions. The ar­rival of a new baby can ac­tu­ally in­crease the fam­ily’s in­te­gra­tion,” says Lisa.

Af­ter the birth of her daugh­ter Lily, Jennifer Lim taught her nineyear-old step­son Alex how to feed the baby and change her di­a­per, and made sure he joined their play­time when­ever he vis­ited.

“Alex’s dad and I were de­ter­mined to make him feel more in­cluded,” the 41-year-old stay-at-home mum shares. “Be­fore Lily was born, we sat him down and ex­plained that some changes were about to take place but they didn’t mean we’d love him any less. We ex­plained that he would be get­ting a baby sis­ter and that his role was to love and pro­tect her al­ways. Lily is now three and she adores her big brother. It’s great to see that Alex has ad­justed so well.”

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