Bringing children into a new marriage is like making s’mores. The graham crackers, gooey marshmallows, and chocolate get squished together, and it can get a little messy. Blending a family can get muddled up, too, with multiple people and their unique histories thrown together to create a unified whole. It can be challenging for a new stepparent.
In an effort to create unity and maintain peace, stepparents may not communicate (or even know how to) some not-so-fun issues they see from their perspective. They may have even tried to talk to you to no avail. Here are some things they would share if you asked them.
- Sometimes we feel like we don’t have a voice. As a biological parent, you and your children have already established ways of going about everyday life–school, discipline, scheduling, holiday traditions, communication styles, and so on. When we come into the picture, you and your children may inadvertently leave us out of conversations around these issues because you are so used to going alone. We understand, but we want to be able to give input into our family’s decisions. After all, we are now part of the new blended family.
- Provide time and space for us to bond with your children. Kids spell love T-I-M-E and F-U-N. We want to get to know your child(ren) on a one-to-one level, but we (the stepparent) need your help. Could you make time to watch the other kids while we take one of them to do something they enjoy? For example, you could take care of the younger kids while we stepparents take an older child to the local fair (or something else they like). Over time, our shared experiences with each stepchild help them feel safe enough to trust us.
- We cannot love your children exactly like you do, but we can still love them well. In the early days of blending families, we stepparents are trying to learn all about your child’s world–a world you already know. You and your kids have a history that has shaped your relationship. We are trying to build our own connections over time and shared experiences. We care about them, and while we cannot love them exactly the way you do, we can love them with the same intensity and intentionality. It may not happen overnight, and there will be awkward moments with our stepchildren as we learn how to navigate the new relationship but give it time.
- We need your encouragement. Have you ever walked into a movie after it started and tried to figure out the plot? It can be disorienting and confusing until you get up to speed. That’s what it is like to be a stepparent. It can be a huge challenge to get a handle on the roles everyone plays and what occurred to bring you to this place. We are learning the ropes of stepparenting and building new relationships with our stepkids, and it can feel daunting and overwhelming. Rather than point out all the things we are doing wrong (believe us, we see our mistakes), encourage us when we are discouraged and frustrated. Applaud the moments we get it right. We need it. And above all, pray for us.
- We need you to have our backs. When we speak into family conflicts and decisions, and later on when we begin to discipline the kids, it is important for us to present a united front. Please don’t take your child’s side, especially when they are in the room. That creates a triangle with the kids holding all the power! In taking their side, they learn they outrank us and will often use that to their advantage. They may develop disrespect for us and may even ignore our authority, which can often lead to a larger conflict later.
Building a blended family is not easy. It takes tenacity, intentionality, wisdom, good communication, a little stubbornness, and a whole lot of prayer. One of the most important and powerful things you can do to build unity with your spouse is to get on your knees together often and ask your Heavenly Father for help. He is the One who placed you all together, so He knows best how to create unity and harmony in your blended family.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families