How to embrace becoming a step-parent
You’ve met the person of your dreams, you fall in love and want to create a family together, but they already have children of their own and you are about to take on the role of being a step-parent. How do you fit into the dynamics of the family and this new role? And what are the best ways for you to embrace becoming a step-mum or dad? We hear from the experts and other step-parents for their advice.
According to Raising Children Network, an Australian parenting organisation which is supported by the Australian Government's Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, there were approximately 99,000 step-families around the country in 2010 and, as a result, thousands of men and women each year are faced with the decisions and the discussions that come with creating step-families.
If you're in the process of becoming a step-parent, here is some advice on how you too can embrace the new role and make it easier for you and the whole family.
Take it slow
According to Raising Children, it takes time for the kids to bond with their new step-parent, and while you might want everyone to get along, it is not something to be rushed, so take it slow.
Raising Children suggests working out a strategy that fits you and your family. "The key is not to expect things to happen too quickly — getting to know other people can take years and you can't hurry the process," the organisation advises. "Both partners are doing something new and it can help if you can work out a strategy for the role each partner will play."
Aaron Hannan from Logandale, Queensland, became a stepdad two years ago and says you just can't rush a new relationship with your stepkids. "Take your time and don't force the relationship," he said. "You need to build trust first and the more time you invest the more rewarding parenting becomes."
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Remember that while you want everyone to get along, it's equally important that the stepchild or children have quality alone time with your partner, their biological parent. This way you give the child or children a chance to talk to their parent alone and bond with them on their own, so they are reassured that they still have that special bond with their biological parent. It is also a great opportunity for the children to speak openly with their biological parent and feel that they can be open with them and talk to them no matter what.
"Children can feel jealous and angry when their biological parent shares time with stepsiblings or the new partner," Raising Children explains. "This can be worse if the child is having trouble forming their own relationships within the new family."
As well as making time for the children with their biological parent, it is also important to spend one-on-one time with your stepchild and bond with them too. Spend time with them by taking part in fun activities together and create a bond with them by enjoying each other's company. Do sport together, take them out shopping or teach them a new skill. "This sort of time together shows the child their step-parent cares about them, not just their parent," advises Raising Children.
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Stepdad Aaron agrees and says that bonding time with the stepchild or children is the perfect way to develop trust, but it is one of the biggest challenges. "At first the most challenging part of becoming a step-parent was developing a bond and the trust of the children," said Aaron. "Now it's finding time to invest in learning and further bonding with the children as well as deciding on appropriate disciplinary measures that both my partner and I agree on." But it's often the simple things that the kids appreciate. "At times they just love having someone listen to them talk about their day at school,” Aaron said. “My daughter Aaliyah for example loves to tell stories and she appreciates just having someone to tell them to."
Children of different ages cope with change differently. Here are some of the reactions to prepare for from your stepchildren, according to Better Health Victoria.
At this age the kids might be too young to comprehend what is happening, but they may worry that because their parents don't live together they don't love them anymore or that it is their fault.
- They may begin to act younger than they are and begin wetting the bed, sucking their thumb or talking like a baby.
- They might begin to want to be cuddled all the time or cry a lot.
At this stage, the children begin to understand what is happening and can have feelings of stress and sadness.
- Grades might start to go down because they can't concentrate.
- They might become antisocial and not want to play with friends.
- They may become argumentative and aggressive at school.
- Feelings of blame may come up.
Kids are particularly vulnerable at this time in their lives and the added pressures of family circumstance can cause them to feel unstable and insecure.
- They can feel embarrassed about seeing their parent in a new relationship.
- They may try to avoid developing a relationship with their step-parent.
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Activities to help you bond with your stepkids
- Start a family activity together. Aaron says finding something in common will help the family bond. "We have just started doing karate together as a family and we enjoy the family time together and having something common that we all do and can talk about."
- Find your inner child. Have fun with the kids and don't be afraid to be silly, to play and to have fun with them. "My stepkids have just started watching a cartoon I used to watch as a kid and it has given me an excuse to be a kid again and sit down and watch it with them," Aaron said.
- Maintain a routine. While routines may begin to change during the transitionary period, it is important to listen to what the children are used to, what foods they eat and what their regular routines are. Listen to them and try to include as many of these as possible into your new household routine.
- Listen. Listen to your stepchildren, your spouse and your own needs and be sure to communicate with and support your partner so you can both work on your new family together.