While the step-couple may be experiencing the bliss of their new relationship, children are likely experiencing a myriad of emotions. When a stepfamily forms, changes often happen too quickly for the children. According to Dr. Patricia Papernow, this presents a common challenge that stepfamilies encounter: Children are dealing with losses, too much change, and struggling with loyalties (2013).
To the surprise of many, adjusting to a stepfamily is often a more difficult transition for children than dealing with divorce (Ahrons, 2007). The demands placed on the parents in forming their new family while nurturing their couple’s relationship may create limited availability of the parent for the child. This is a key time when children need an empathetic and available parent.
Loyalty binds become another challenge that children in new stepfamilies deal with. Children frequently experience a feeling of being disloyal to their parent when they care for a stepparent.
One misstep that many step-couples make is to put the needs of the relationship ahead of the needs of the child. While this may work well for a first-time family, it does not work well in a stepfamily. Both the couple’s relationship and attending to the experience of the children need to be given priority. Balancing time as a couple, as well as, with parent-child time is important.
Take time to ask the children about their experience. Be open to the fact that their experience is different than yours. As you listen, validate what makes sense from your child’s perspective. Reassure your child that while things are different, you will still do your best to be there for them.
Stepfamily relationships take some time to develop. Providing the children with understanding, patience, love, and acceptance is key.
Written By: Jackie Dunagan, LAMFT