These guidelines were developed to facilitate familiarity with and appreciation for some of the conflicts and stresses faced by stepparents.
Provide neutral territory. Each child needs a place to call his/her own. When two sets of children are brought together, one group of children may think of themselves as the subfamily unless an effort is made to allow each child a space of his/her own.
Don't try to fit a preconceived role. Each parent is an individual and the children will need time to get used to you. Be honest and straight with them. Make every effort to respond intelligently and kindly but remember children are good at detecting phoniness.
Set limits and enforce them. You and your partner need to work out rules in advance and need to support each other when these rules need to be enforced. Keep the rules simple and few in number at the beginning. Fighting between you and your partner can really complicate things and children will try to take advantage of any fighting that does occur.
Allow an outlet for the child's feelings for the natural parent. Children need to express their feelings for the natural parent without being made to feel disloyal. Expressing love for a missing natural parent should not be looked on as rejection by the stepparent.
Expect ambivalence–children will show both love and hate for the stepparent. Ambivalence is normal in all human relationships. In the stepparent-child relationship it may be heightened because of the child's concern about being disloyal to the natural parent.
Avoid meal time misery. Stepparents may view the child's refusal to eat as rejection and frequently table manners become an issue. Children need to know what the rules are and usually will quickly learn to follow them. Avoid as much hassle as possible, allowing kids to fix their own meals or sharing this task when children are old enough.
Don't expect instant love; it takes time for emotional bonds to form and sometimes this never occurs. Children under three usually have an easier time adapting but in some relationships even the loving child will use the words, "I hate you," as a weapon when he/she gets older.
Don't take all the responsibility–the child has some too. The child's make-up, attitudes, and behavior may prevent the child from working with the stepparent. The stepparent can only do so much. How well she/he gets along with the child depends in part on the child.
Be patient–building trust takes time. Developing a New relationship and learning to get along in a new family with different rules and expectations takes time–sometimes months and years.
Maintain the privacy of the marital relationship. While the parenting role is important, the couple needs to spend time maintaining and strengthening the marriage relationship. The children will feel more secure if they realize that the parents get along together, can settle disputes and, most of all, cannot be divided by the children.
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