The following is a list of “lessons learned” based on our personal experience and research:
1. Become knowledgeable about the stages of stepfamily formation, stepfamily myths, and challenges as soon as possible. This helps couples to recognize that they are not the only ones experiencing the chaos. Know that it takes 3-5 years for a stepfamily to bond, so there is no such thing as an “instant family.”
2. The biological parent should discipline his/her own children. It takes young children about 3+ years to bond with a new stepparent. During that time, the role of the stepparent is simply to develop a relationship with the new stepchild. The stepparent can also assist his/her spouse by supporting and reinforcing the biological parent’s rules.
3. Be aware of the double-digit rule: children over 10 years old may or may not bond with a new stepparent. Therefore, stepparents must be realistic about the type of relationship they expect to have with their new stepchildren.
4. The step-couple must quickly learn to tolerate ambiguity —everything is ambiguous and uncertain in the first 3-5 years. The couple must also have good adaptive skills or make it a point to learn them.
5. Learn to balance the needs of the kids and the needs of the marriage (couple bonding). Obviously, the children’s needs come first. But you can get so busy putting out fires with the kids that you have no energy left for building a relationship with your spouse. So, set a date night each week or so and go out and have fun. Make it a point not to talk about the kids or the problems at home. This is couple time.
6. It is important to seek counseling early. It is so helpful to have a third party to assist you in resolving disputes over parenting styles or children issues.
7. ‘Different’ does not mean ‘wrong.’ (Although we had very different parenting styles, we both wanted the same things for our children. We often argued about whose method was right. Experience eventually taught us that there is more than one way to raise children who become responsible and loving adults.) The key is to respect each parent’s approach and to recognize that it is unfair to the children to demand that one parent’s approach should change immediately after the remarriage occurs.
We continue to add to our list of lessons even now that our children are young adults.
This article was written by Dr Jeff and Judi Parziale, who have been married for a number of years. They each brought three children into their marriage. The challenges of working through the issues of remarriage and stepfamily life led them to start InStep Ministries.
InStep Ministries is a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the community by providing practical, Biblical resources, support and counsel to single, divorced and remarried individuals, their families and the churches who minister to them. InStep is pro-marriage not pro-divorce. They subscribe to the position on marriage and divorce espoused by Fresh Start Ministries. Their vision is to connect every single, divorced and remarried person to a community of faith. You can visit their web site at: Instepministries.com.