Parenting is never easy, but when you have a blended family—with bio-kids and stepkids, your spouse's ex, and other extended family members thrown into the mix—things can get very difficult very quickly. We receive questions every week in Empowering Parents from readers who ask: "How can I discipline my stepkids effectively and get their respect? No matter what I do, they just won't listen to me." Carri and Gordon Taylor, nationally recognized experts on creating thriving stepfamilies, have answers that have worked for countless stepparents.
It can be extremely hard to find the right balance when you're a stepparent. Many adults try to blend their families with high expectations: they may think it will be similar to their first marriage in terms of time spent with their spouse and the attention they'll be able to give the relationship. Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth.
We like to say that first marriages are "apples," and second marriages are "oranges": you can't compare the two, because while a first marriage is all about your new partner, a subsequent marriage revolves around the kids—and making sure that everyone has a place in the family. In working with stepfamilies over the years, we've found if the parents try to rush it or "force new family," it's not going to work out well. And here's the tough part for adults: the steprelationship is the barometer of how (or if) the family is coming together—and the child is the one who will determine that, because you can't make anyone like you.
It's important to realize that everyone's role shifts when you create a stepfamily. In fact, when you first bring everyone together, all the kids will try to figure out where—or even if—they belong in the new system. If they don't believe they have a place—or if they think someone is taking their place—they'll often act out. We've come up with five tried-and-true "secrets" that helped us after we created our own stepfamily. We've also used them to help thousands of other couples successfully blend theirs. (Read to the end for the "bonus secret" that we think every stepparent should know!)
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