Living with your new partner’s children can seem daunting, but you can build a beautiful relationship with him or her if you follow this simple step by step guide.
1. Ensure your partner is supportive
You have to agree about the big issues: rules, responsibilities and rewards. To strengthen your relationship, take time out to be alone together to nourish your relationship. This is crucial for the continuing existence and emotional health of the step-family. Eve just simple things like a lunchtime walk in the park or an evening visit to the pub once a week.
2. Accept that a step-family is different to the traditional nuclear family
The key to success is to be aware of the differing values and attitudes of the various family members – in particular, towards discipline, privacy and money. Develop a tolerance towards differences, whilst establishing agreed customs and routines for your new family.
3. Recognise that becoming a step-parent is never the same as being a parent
Loving a step-child as your own may not be possible – but to like and respect them is an achievable goal. Step-parenting will be more successful if you carve out a different and non-competitive role to their natural mother or father. Discuss how to do this with your partner.
4. Acknowledge the role and value of your natural counterpart
Try not to criticise the parent in front of your step-children. This forces stepchildren to make choices between you, causing distress and tension. Rather, encourage step-children to talk to you about their natural mother or father. This reduces loyalty conflicts and provides a sense of continuity.
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5. Ensure that any visiting step-children feel at home
Give them their own space – a cupboard or shelves for their toys, as examples. And have things around that are familiar to them: The same type of shampoo and toothpaste that they use at home, as examples. Include them in any chores and projects so they feel part of a family.
6. Let the relationship develop at its own pace
Don’t rush it – the desire for an instant, ready-made relationship leads to difficulties and disappointments. It often takes at least two years or more for step-family relationships to settle into place. Be patient, and give your step-children plenty of time to accept you.
7. Build your relationship before attempting to discipline your step-children
Spend some time getting to know each other. Taking up a mutual hobby, going shopping together. But make sure this isn’t forced – pretending to enjoy something that you dislike will eventually cause unnecessary tensions.
8. Seek help and advice when necessary
You can contact: Family and Marriage Society of South Africa (FAMSA). Their website is www.famsa.org.za.