Adjusting to Stepchildren
With people marrying more frequently step or blended families are very common. Often, however, couples do not prepare for the "blend" very well; thinking/hoping that their love for one another will create "one big happy family". Common problems surface when:
It is very different to be a guest than to be a permanent part of your new partner's family. As a guest, you normally do not get quite as emotionally involved but once everyone is together under the same roof, dynamics change. For a new stepparent, it is almost impossible to anticipate all of the challenges presented by their new partner's children. The behaviour of a stepchild that initially was thought of as being "interesting or different" can become frustrating when faced with it daily, often compounded with differing parenting philosophies about what "problematic behaviour" is.
How Parenting Roles Change with Stepchildren
Step parents normally do not have the same authority as the biological parent and as such, they have to establish their new role in collaboration with their new partner rather than assume that what works for their children will also apply to the new stepchildren. For the children, they now have two sets of parents and although there can be many benefits for the stepchildren, confusion and resentment can quickly develop if they are receiving mixed messages about proper behaviour, limits, privileges etc.
How Family Counselling Can Help
Family counselling can help by having an open discussion about expectations around parenting. If philosophies differ, the new couple is encouraged to make collaborative agreements to ensure at the very least they do not undermine each other or confuse the stepchildren. The new couple is coached to resolve problems privately and support one another even in the case of disagreement on what the problem is or the origin of the problem. Typically the new couple is met with first to assess the family dynamics and problems. Many times simply working with the new couple is sufficient to remedy whatever problems have surfaced. Sometimes it is helpful/necessary to have the stepchildren in to help change dynamics but involving the children only occurs after at least one meeting with the new parents. The assumption being made here is that first and foremost the new couple needs to get clear on how they want to parent and modify parenting that is not proving to be effective before involving children in counselling.