Eight ways to help build a healthy stepfamily

From "Making Healthy Stepfamilies," by Gayle Peterson, Ph.D. MSSW

Strengthen the couple's bond:

The key to any healthy family system is the mutual love, caring and respect that the partners share. Working through the predictable stresses of becoming a stepfamily secures your relationship. Take time to be alone and develop your bond independent of the children and parenting roles in the family. Resolving difficult parenting issues through honest sharing and understanding will build intimacy. Just remember to be patient with the desire for change.

Remember this is your choice, not the children's:

It is important to remember that as a stepparent, you had a choice in the situation while the children did not. As the adult your responsibility must encompass an understanding that you will be expected to be concerned and involved in caring for these children and ensuring their sense of security in traveling through this transition.

Don't expect instant love:

Very often stepparents suffer from unrealistic expectations regarding the transition of blending families, resulting in feelings of helplessness and victimization. And very often natural parents share fantasies of the perfect family union, pressuring spouses to love children they do not even really know yet, or expecting a stepparent to discipline a child before an appropriate affection has grown between the two.

Relationships take time. Realistic expectations between stepparents and children must include a gradual period of getting to know one another. There is no such thing as instant intimacy. Respect one another and take the time to become acquainted. Let the relationship build security and caring on its own merit, without pressure to fill the fantasy of loving one another before a solid "like" has been established. On the average, two to three years is the time period for developing these bonds and stabilizing the new family.

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