10 Keys to Stepfamily Success

In his book, Living in a Step-Family without Getting Stepped On,Dr. Kevin Leman relates: “Disciplining the children may be the number one issue among blended families, but anger is the villain causing most of the discipline problems. You can bet that almost everyone in a blended family is mad at someone or someone is mad at them. Stepmoms are mad because they are treated like dirt or like the maid. Stepdads are mad because all they seem to be good for is paying the bills. Kids are mad because one of their parents is gone, sometimes forever. Children in the blended family are especially angry because they have been ‘ripped.’ They are hurt, and often they want to hurt back.”

Keeping stepfamilies together is tough. Very tough. But you can survive…and thrive!

Here are 10 keys to stepfamily success:

1. Believe:

Begin the marriage, begin the new school year, begin each week, begin the beginnings of every new day…begin every interaction from the foundational assumption that, “These are my kids, all of them, and this is a family I believe in.”

2. Lose the step-moniker:

A well-known celebrity once famously said: “I have four children, two of them are adopted, but I never remember which ones.” He may have fudged the absolute truth on his statement, but the spirit of the idea is clear.

3. Work out a family contract:

Agree on protocols together and include the kids in the discussion. Include such items as, “When Jim married mom we started a new kind of family. We know it’s not easy but we all choose to respect one another. We choose to love one another. We choose to listen before we react. We choose to be honest about how we’re feeling….etc.

4. Schedule a weekly family meeting:

“Bruce” shares the following tip. “The family meeting does a bunch of good things. It keeps conversation alive. It evens the playing field. It tells all the kids we value their input. It helps schedule important events. It usually provides some great laughs. It says, loud and clear—‘We’re going to make this family work!’”

5. Be proactive about family time—make it happen:

We honor our commitments to work, so why not make family time ironclad too? Things like stepfamilies don’t work themselves out by chance and without considerable effort. Being deliberate about family time must be a top-tier priority.

6. Always back up your spouse:

Do not allow yourselves to be sucked in to “Our family versus theirs.” The most important relationship in any family is the marriage.

7. Your wife is your first priority:

The best thing you can do for your biological child, as a dad, is to love and to cherish the woman you are married to. The best thing you can do for her biological children is to love and to cherish their mother. Bottom line is this: any home is only as strong and as functional as the relationship between the adults in charge.

8. Keep a healthy double standard (follow closely here):

First, guard against favoritism. This means work hard to avoid allowing your biological child to come between you and your wife. Second, recognize the fact that it will happen sometimes, despite your best efforts—and recognize that your spouse will trip up when it comes to her biological child. But here is the choice you have—hold yourself to a higher standard and never, ever accuse your wife of favoritism. It’s a lose-lose situation if you point it out.

9. Don’t insist the kids be best buddies:

But… do insist they treat one-another with respect. Insist on kindness. Insist on inclusion. Insist on compassion. Insist on love. Then, as a result of the practice of civilized behavior, friendship will likely follow.

10. Get involved in an extended community:

Hang out with other families on a regular basis. Not just other stepfamilies, but all kinds of other families. A faith community, the YMCA, volunteer work together. Isolation is always a recipe for stress and failure. Think what you like about the “It takes a village…” idea—just make sure you’re in one.

Huddle up with all of your kids tonight and tell each one why you are proud of them.

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