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After the Divorce: Helping Kids Accept Stepparents

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March 4, 2013

Separating and going through a divorce is hard for everyone involved.  Letting go of the dreams we had for our families is heartbreaking and the transitional period that immediately follows is typically pretty rocky.  Fortunately most families are able to find some stability in their new lives and, eventually, parents start dating again.  This can be hard for several reasons, most notably because moms and dads worry their children will feel as if they are trying to replace the other parent.  Another area of difficulty revolves around the pain of seeing an ex with someone new.  It’s an emotional time but, with some care, families can get through it.

It’s one thing to be testing the waters but it’s a whole different story when a divorced parent decides to remarry (or cohabitate).  Suddenly, this new person is a permanent fixture and will interact with the children on a regular basis.  They may have their own kids or may bring new ones into the family.  As a parent, it’s our job to make sure that our sons and daughters adjust in as healthy a way as possible.  If you find yourself struggling, here are some helpful tips to get you through the tough times.

Drop the Evil Stepmother Act

Disney has made it very difficult to shed the belief that all stepmothers are evil people who are out to harm their stepchildren.  Sure, it is possible that these types exist but it’s equally possible that the majority of stepparents (not just stepmothers) are decent people who are just as nervous about finding their place in their new family.  They aren’t going to be perfect and, if we villainize them, we just make it worse for our children.

Set Boundaries Early On

Chances are, your former spouse dated their new significant other for a while before they got married.  The time to address boundaries is during those early stages while realizing that, as time goes on and the relationship matures, those guidelines may need to be adjusted.  Perhaps, with everyone’s hectic schedule, you might loosen up on your rule about allowing the new wife/husband to pick up your child from school.  Maybe they haven’t been very responsible and you need to implement stricter boundaries.  Take it a day at a time.

Address Concerns Privately

Your child may come home and say a lot of colorful things about their new stepparent.  Naturally, you should always take your child’s words seriously and definitely take action if they say something that is troubling or potentially dangerous.  First start with your ex.  Let them know what your child said but try to do it in a non-accusatory way that allows a real conversation to take place.  If they feel like they are being put on the defensive, you’re not going to get very far.  Remember, it’s not about your being right – it’s about ensuring the happiness and safety of your child.

Be Patient and Understanding

It’s not easy to step into a family, especially if you’ve never had any children.  You aren’t perfect so don’t expect perfection from a new stepparent.  They are going to make mistakes and there are going to be hurt feelings but that’s all part of everyone getting to know each other.

Consider Family Counseling

If things get really rough, consider going to counseling together.  It might be beneficial for the adults to go alone at first to see if, maybe, the problem can be resolved without having to bring the children into it.  Of course, if you and the therapist feel that they should be involved, a neutral environment is the best place to air grievances.

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