The course of true love never did run smooth. Take it from me, these are words to live by when you fall in love with someone who has children from a previous relationship.
With the cold hard facts showing that nearly one in every two marriages in the UK ends in divorce, it’s likely that many of us will find ourselves having to negotiate the tricky waters that come with stepfamilies. Here’s how to make it work.
A step-family scenario is new for everyone involved, from the kids to the parent in the relationship to the new partner. Challenges will certainly arise but time really does help everyone find their place in the new scheme of things.
The new partner has to respect that they are stepping into a family that already has its own way of doing things, but setting up new traditions and rituals will go a long way to creating goodwill among what could be a disparate group of people.
My own partner, who has three adult kids from his first marriage, and I host an “early Christmas” at our place every year, a week before Christmas Day. It is usually a riot of laughs, wrapping paper, sausages, chicken goujons and Quality Street, the kids’ preferred menu.
With a marriage breakdown comes a large dose of guilt, and it is not uncommon for a parent to overcompensate in the wake of one. New partners, who may have children of their own, will be stepping into a minefield of family dynamics that they will struggle to make sense of initially.
This doesn’t mean that any and all behaviour is acceptable, or that your needs, as the new partner, should be ignored.
Irrespective of whether your partner and his or her kids are in therapy or not, finding a trusted therapist for yourself as you enter into a stepfamily situation is a good move. My own therapist remained my link to sanity as my relationship faced some very trying times (seven years of trying times in fact).
Letting off steam is a must and will help you to maintain some way of keeping your eye on the goal – that of a healthy and strong relationship with the person you love – when the going gets tough.
Don’t force the family to bond
There is only so much a new partner can do to help the new stepfamily form and settle, and forcing the issue is likely to cause more problems.
If the kids in the equation are teenagers, they’re at a stage in their lives where their friendships take precedence, so don’t take it personally if they avoid you like the plague. Adulthood dawns soon enough and it is at this point that you’ll be thankful you gave it time, since all the parties concerned will start finding ways to relate to each other in appropriate and authentic ways.
As you weather the storms that can come with integrating into a new stepfamily, your own friendships and social connections will prove to be worth their weight in gold in your life. Not only will your friends provide a listening ear, there will also be times when you want to get away from all things stepfamily and relationship orientated. Your friends will remind you of the part of yourself that isn’t immersed in relationship challenges.
When you’re knee-deep in new stepfamily challenges, romance can fall way down the list of priorities. This is a mistake. While it is very important to accommodate everyone’s needs in the new stepfamily, it is also critical that you set aside time exclusively for your partner and you.
The last thing you want to do is lose sight of the reason why you are with this person, and regular affection and time to enjoy each other will strengthen your relationship.
We’re only human and it is difficult to always take the high road when it comes to relationships of all types, but knowing when to engage and when to stay out of things is a recipe for keeping some peace in your own life.
My three stepchildren and I now have friendly and appropriate relationships with each other. They’re all in their twenties, old enough to have had a few life lessons delivered their way. One, in fact, is in a relationship with a man who has a five-year-old daughter from a previous marriage!