Children in Stepfamilies: What You Should Know
Seven out of ten marriages end in divorce in Spain, according to the Spanish Family Police Institute. With these statistics, we’re facing an increasingly common phenomenon in society: children in stepfamilies.
Children in stepfamilies
After most people separate, they wish to start a new relationship. But chances are that one of the two partners, or both, will have children with previous partners. Things become more complicated when the partner has children together in addition to those they already had.
Thus, this gives rise to what people know as stepfamilies, where children live with one parent, their new partner, and probably their new partner’s children as well.
This situation may be difficult for children to deal with. They’ll adapt to the new situation or not depending on how they’ve dealt with their parents’ separation.
If the separation was amicable and the adults didn’t involve the children in their problems, it’ll be much easier for them to adapt to their parents’ subsequent decisions. But if both parents or one of them hasn’t made sense of the situation, the children are going to live this new experience with anguish.
Possible difficulties for children in stepfamilies
- The smaller the children are, the easier it’ll be for them to adapt to the new situation. Surely, they’ll end up accepting their mother or father’s new life. Conversely, one of the most difficult periods is usually between the ages of 10 and 14. During this period, it’s quite possible for children to face this new situation defiantly. They may not understand the role of their parent’s new partner. It’s common for them to say “You’re not the boss of me” or “You’re not my mother.” But after age 15, teenagers become more independent. Thus, having a good relationship with their families or not doesn’t affect them.
- If their parents didn’t end the relationship on good terms, it’s very likely that being with their new family will make children feel bad. They may feel guilty and even lie to a parent to avoid hurting their feelings. I remember a girl who told her father’s partner the following: “I don’t tell my mom that I have fun with you because that would make her cry.” Children want their parents to be happy. A child will be able to accept the new family only if both parents have come to terms with the separation. Otherwise, they’ll be in a very difficult situation, as they’ll consider the new partner a rival.
- When the new couple has children together. First of all, you have to see if the children get along. The best approach would be to make them see each other sporadically, help them build friendships, and gradually introduce them into the parents’ romantic relationship. There may be jealousy between them. If the couple decides to start living with their children, keep in mind that the children come from two different families, probably with very different rules, customs, and habits.
- The birth of a shared sibling. In the event that the couple has a new child, it’s very important that the other children don’t feel displaced, as the new child will have both their father and mother, and this could cause jealousy. On the other hand, the birth of a shared sibling can help strengthen family ties.
- Reproducing the nuclear family model. This is a mistake because a stepfamily can never function as a nuclear family, and hoping for this will just lead to frustration.
Tips to improve coexistence with children in stepfamilies
- Space and time. It’s necessary for the children to have their own space in the new family, both physical space, as well as space to be with their parents. A good recommendation is to try to spend time alone with your children to do activities with them, as well as enjoy family time. It’s important to find a balance so that nobody feels left out. Your new partner should also nurture their relationship with your children and gain their affection and trust.
- Patience. Each child has their own rhythm; for some, it’ll be easier to adapt, while others will have a harder time. You must be patient and give them time. According to experts, the most difficult age for a child to adapt to a new family is between the ages of 10 and 14.
- Rules. Children will see very different routines, habits, and preferences in the new family. What was normal in a family, may be strange in another. For this reason, it’s very important to establish co-habitation rules in the new family. These rules must be decided within the new family nucleus, with the participation of all the family members. Although it’s fine if both parents maintain the same routines, the rules don’t need to be the same in each home. Children can perfectly understand that every household has different rules. The important thing is for children to know what’s expected of them in each situation.
- Involve all family members. In a reconstituted family, it’s necessary for all members to feel recognized and important. Therefore, it’s essential to do activities together, divide responsibilities, agree on rules, and distribute space and time for everyone.
- Establish boundaries. Don’t be afraid to establish boundaries. Many parents feel bad because they believe that this situation is already quite hard for them. They fear that if they establish boundaries, their children will turn against them.
Thus, while it’ll be a huge change for children to see themselves in a new family unit, if you take into account these points, the adaptation process will be much easier for everyone, both children and adults.
In addition, you can’t forget that the new family will never function as a nuclear family, because it isn’t one. If you let go of these “normal” family expectations, you’ll also free yourself from many frustrations and make everything a lot easier for everyone.