You are entering a new marriage. You have children and so does your soon-to-be new spouse. How do you assure that everyone lives happily ever after like the old television series The Brady Bunch? You don’t. Life is a far different story!
Following are some questions you need to ask yourself before entering a blended family, as well as do’s and don’ts and my observations of pitfalls regarding becoming a stepparent:
How long has your courtship been?
Have you given the children time to meet and get to know each other? The more time that there is for relationships to evolve, the better off everyone will be. Also, the more familiarity that there is the better your chance of success as you move forward with a new marriage.
What are the ages of your children and the ages of their soon-to-be stepsiblings? The ages and sex of everyone can be important.
Where will everyone be living? Are you buying a new home together? Are you moving into an existing home? Living arrangements are important. Turf issues can come into play. Will children be sharing bedrooms? Children do not like to share, especially with someone who is thrust into their lives. These are issues that need to be worked out. Moving in to one party’s former home can be more difficult, especially since the children who already live there may feel that they are giving up their territory.
What is the attitude of your soon-to-be new spouse about childrearing? It is important that you and your new spouse communicate fully about these issues.
How will discipline be handled? I have seen over the years that everyone has his or her own ideas about discipline. Make sure that you are on the same page, or there will be problems. You cannot step in and discipline your stepchildren unless you and your spouse have a close understanding on these issues. The area of discipline and rules can lead to confrontations and court battles, especially if you have a toxic relationship with your former spouse.
It is important to remember that stepparents have no legal rights regarding stepchildren.
It is critical to understand that children are highly manipulative and they will play you against each other. This includes your former spouse and your new spouse.
Other points of contention will be watching how you deal with your former spouse over child-related and economic issues and how your new spouse handles these issues with his or her ex.
Allowances and the handling of money by your children as well as chores and what is expected of everyone should be discussed and spelled out. One person’s idea of neatness is another’s idea of a mess.
It is important to coordinate parenting time/visitation and custodial arrangements so that all of your children are together on the same schedules as much as possible.
School-related issues and homework should be coordinated, discussed, and dealt with.
Schedules for sporting events, entertainment, and extracurricular activities must be handled in some fashion.
Economics are always a sore spot to be recognized and dealt with. How will money be pooled? How will bills be paid? How much support you are paying or receiving as well as how much your new spouse is paying or receiving can be sources of friction as well.
Never forget that your children always hope that you and their natural mother or father will reunite. Children often sabotage a new second marriage. Be on your guard, and if you see problems, do not hesitate to engage in some family counseling with a good therapist.
Communication with your new spouse and your children is critical.
Often there are no easy answers, and the key is to expect some bumps and hopefully not a rollercoaster ride. A stepparent once shared some words of wisdom with me. Her advice was to keep your mouth shut and your wallet open when dealing with stepchildren.
These are some of my ideas and food for thought. Please share yours with us as well.