Blending Families: 7 Secrets to a Happy Step-Life

Step...  As in stepping on someone else's toes?  Or, as in stepping on a drama filled landmine?  Oh, the horror.  Thanks to Charles Perrault's interpretation of the wicked stepmother, some still shudder at what a step parent symbolizes.  Lady Tremaine's insecurities not only turned her into a chronic sourpuss with bad hair but led her and her daughters to a life full of misery. One may even speculate she coined the Resting Bitch Face.  I certainly sympathize with all that Cinderella endured under the care of Lady Tremaine, and wonder why no one taught that woman some basic coping mechanisms.  The children in blended families are important, but so are the step parents. In my years of playing this role I've picked up a thing or two though and know, that if you are happy it will reflect in your entire household.  Even your step children.  

I'll be the first to admit that it isn't always a walk in the park. This is true for many reasons.  It's hard to incorporate yourself into an already established family, there are preconceived notions about step parents and bonding with children that aren't your own can be challenging.  I'm no expert, but I can assure you there can be happiness for everyone in this family process, including you.

1.  Don't be a victim. 

Unless you're reading this from a 3rd world country where women don't have a  say, then you shouldn't feel obligated to enter into this type of relationship. It sounds callous, but you need to hear it.  There's no "Poor me, I'm doing this for you". 

Blended family bonds require sacrifice and many times we know early on whether or not this kind of commitment is for us.  If find yourself suffocated while having second thoughts, then it's time to re-evaluate the situation and make a mature decision as to what happiness means to you.  This type of family unit brings many blessings, but it's also a commitment.  

2.  Accept that you are not their parent.

This is tricky because there are many step parents investing their time into building a real bond with their step kids and unintentionally take on the role that belongs to the biological parents.  The responsibilities that go along with discipline and rules should always fall on mom and dad.  Encouraging kids to refer to you (the step parent) as mom or dad, or to defy already established guidelines will likely create a conflict between parents and/or parent and child.  

That's not to say you can't offer advice, but keep in mind that the authoritative figures were established  before you came along.  Step parents can contribute to a child's upbringing by showing support and being strong role model who lead by example.

3.  Don't compete for love. 

There's no competition because there's no comparison.  The love your husband or wife feels for you is completely different that for their child. Speaking ill or condescendingly of their child will NOT put you in a better light.  Singling out all of the things a child does wrong can be frustrating to the point where a spouse could harbor resentment.  Rightfully so, as any parent thinks to protect their child at all costs. 

If you happen to clash with your stepchild then speak to your partner keeping a calm and objective attitude.  If the child is a bit older, it doesn't hurt to have an open and honest conversation to see what adjustments can be made when the opportunity is right.  Remember, you're the adult.  

4.  Make time for yourself.  

You went from zero to 100 responsibilities in an instant and you're bound to feel overwhelmed from time to time.  Spend time with your girlfriends, hang out at a spa, go watch that chick flick you'vE been eyeing .

While you may experience guilt about leaving your new family (as I have in the past ) it's important to step away as you adjust to all of the happenings.   

5.  Don't force it.  

You love your partner and in turn, you want to love their kids.  Of course, you want the kids to love you back-and fast.  Real relationships take time to develop.  It's no different with kids. They have ESP and can easily sense insincerity.  

Don't be fake and let the emotions develop organically.  Show genuine interest for the things they like and I promise they'll be inclined to reciprocate the feelings you have for them.  I spent countless hours playing wii and ps3 when Dylan was younger, so if you need Playstation 101, call me up.  

6. Love thy spouse.  

NO, everything is NOT their fault.  We forget that our spouse is the one having to endure the brunt of the mess.  The one having to spend time away from their kids, the one having to see their kids in the middle.  The one who didn't plan for any of this to happen in the first place.  Spend time together, talk things out and be understanding.  Taking one night out of the week is a great way to reconnect and build on what you already have.  Children from divorced parents have to cope with underlying tension between their parents.  

By strengthening the relationship with your spouse you'll not only fulfill the emotional needs that you require as a couple, but the children will benefit from the normalcy.  It is said that the family unit in blended families comes directly from what you and your partner have created.  Therefore, it's imperative to keep that love alive.  

7.  Don't take it personal 

You've probably found yourself in situations where your stepkiddo chooses their biological parent over you.  OUCH.  A part of of you knows it makes sense.  The other part can't come to terms.  Suddenly, you're inundated with hurt and disappointment.  These feelings are natural as you've probably gotten quite close to them by now. One must remember that although stepchildren will love and appreciate you, they instinctively feel a sense of loyalty towards their parents.  These children have already or are still enduring the burden of getting pulled left and right by at least, one parent. 

They constantly have to make choices, thought they wish they didnt have to.  Don't add more pressure.  Rather than allowing the resentment to build up, let them be happy with their choice and support them wholeheartedly.  The less pressure they feel from your end, the more compelled they'll feel to continue getting close to you.  

8.  Govern yourself accordingly.  

Children are like elephants, they never forget.  Please remember to do all things with compassion.  Exercise patience when it's called for.  Use your words carefully when dealing with the other parent.  Steer away from doing or saying things out of sheer impulse or anger.  You'll grow tor regret them and like everything else in life, they can't be taken back.  

Being a happy step parent won't always come easy, but what you put in is what you'll get out.  Just like biological parents. Over time it won't matter that they don't have your blood, by then they'll have your heart.  I guarantee you'll find happiness there.