When starting a family, most people tend to glaze over the fact that 40%-50% of marriages end in divorce. A lot of times, that divorce can come after children are already brought into the picture. It’s definitely not out of the norm for kids to grow up in blended and split families, and everyone in the home—children, biological parent(s), stepmom, stepdad, etc.—has to adjust in their own way.
Being a single parent is not for the faint of heart. It’s double the work and double the worry, always wondering if you are really doing the best you can. Meeting someone who hits it off with your kids and falling in love with them can feel like hitting the jackpot. The problem with this scenario is that the chances of divorce are even higher in a blended family union. We’re talking 70%, here.
While it’s completely possible to have a happy family in this, it does come with some stress points that other families may not have to deal with.
Coming from the perspective of a stepmom who jumped headfirst into blended family life, I can tell you that it’s not easy. Worth it? Absolutely. Definitely not easy though. There is no guide or perfect rule book to help us handle stepfamily life flawlessly, but there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that might help you avoid some of the roadblocks that many of us have already fought with. Here are the top five things single dads must know before asking the woman they love to jump into the stepmom life.
You can’t expect your child and significant other to bond instantly.
Your child is your flesh and blood. You have a primal instinct to love and protect this child at all costs, and the majority of parents have an instant attachment to their babies as soon as they are born. Remember that this is not the case for your child’s stepmom. When you had your child you instantaneously loved them, and then grew to also like them as you got to watch them grow. A stepparent comes at it from the opposite angle. We do not have that instant, maternal bond with someone else’s baby. We have to get to know them first before we can truly love them.
You have to be as patient as possible with both your kids and your significant other while they try to bond and adjust to each other. Don’t be surprised if there are some rough days where either, or both parties feel totally overwhelmed. It’s not easy to allow a new woman to come into your life as an authority figure, but it’s also not easy to move into a home with children who are unsure about you. Give them time and allow everyone to have their space when needed. You can’t force this stuff, trust me on that.
You should probably avoid the “Not A Parent, No Opinion” Mindset
At the end of the day, you are the one who makes the final decision when it comes to your child in your home. No one can come in and force you to change your rules or parenting style. That being said, be flexible and open-minded with your significant other’s input. You asked this person to come into your family, and they did so willingly. So you absolutely cannot treat them like a doormat and expect them to go along with anything and everything you decide to do, whether they like it or not. This is especially true when that decision directly affects them. Choosing to bring this woman into your family means that you have to show courtesy to her too, not just the kids.
A stepmom is more willing to be a happy part of the family unit when she feels heard, understood, and compromised with.
It’s easy to take on the role of being your family’s ‘Executive Decision-Maker’ when you are living the single dad life, but that will have to come with some compassion and patience when you bring another person in. If you are too rigid and uncaring about decisions that will impact the whole family, it will make it hard for a stepparent to feel like they belong there. Realize that she does have a voice and always be willing to compromise so that the entire family’s needs are met as evenly as possible.
You should have her back, always.
In a marriage or serious relationship, nothing is more important than having each other’s back. You have to rely on each other and trust that if things get tough, the other person will be there for you. So if your parents, your ex, or even your kids come after your spouse harshly, it’s extremely important to put a stop to that and back them up. Don’t let anyone make even the smallest amount of room for disrespect in your marriage, because if you let it slide, you are putting yourself at risk of bigger problems creeping in.
The more respect you show personally towards your significant other, the easier it will be for your children to follow suit. As long as you are a safe haven and trusted confidant for one another, outside influences will not stand a chance at coming between you.
If she needs to step back as a stepmom, let her.
It’s easy to go all in and be a super involved step-parent at the beginning of a relationship. That type of involvement may work for some families, especially if the kids’ birth mother is not in the picture. At the same time, some couples operate easier with the stepparent taking a step back and being a little less involved with the heavy parenting. If you have this mental picture of your new spouse coming in and turning into the perfect mother for your kids, realize that it may not be that easy and it may not be what works best. A lot of stepmoms will step back and let the biological parents handle the deeper issues and life lessons with the kids, but are still happy to assist with being a good role model and loving the kids as less of a mom, and more of a friend.
It’s helpful to work out these kinks before moving everyone in together, and if possible, definitely voice your expectations early on. The truth is that becoming a stepmom is not an overnight process. I like to say that as a stepmom, we grow into our role until we find the happy medium that brings the most happiness to us and the kids. You can’t control what type of relationship your kids will have with their stepparent, so truly the best thing to do is let it form on its own and allow everyone to grow into their family roles as needed.
Put each other first.
This piece of advice has been given to my husband and I by every successful couple in our lives since the day we got engaged. To some, this advice comes across as uncaring or unfair, but it’s really not. Here’s why:
Look at it from a stepmom’s perspective. You meet the man of your dreams and fall head over heels for him and his kids. You start a life together and things are great. Until they’re not. You are put on a backburner and if the kids want something, that “want” is put ahead of your “needs”. You feel like an outsider in your own home and it gets harder and harder to find your place in the family. Doesn’t sound great, does it?
You can’t put your relationship on the backburner for eighteen years and hope that everything turns out okay. You can’t be busy giving your children every ounce of your energy while leaving your marriage on autopilot in the background.
Put the marriage first because you asked this woman to be your teammate. The better the team is, the better you can both care for the family as a whole, which includes the kids. The way you love your wife will overflow into the love you can both give to your children. Eventually, your children will grow up, leave and start lives of their own, but your spouse isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of that whole, til’ death do us part thing.
Don’t waste years investing little effort into your marriage because the day your children move on you will have nothing left. It’s also good to mention that one of the best things you can do for your kids is to show them a good example of what true love and commitment looks like. It will give them a good model to follow when they create families of their own, which is the best way to ensure their long term happiness, even after you are not here to coach them anymore.
Needless to say, blending a family together is a complicated balancing act. That doesn’t mean it’s not 100% worth every bump in the road. Love each other, love your kids, and never stop. Showing consideration and being mindful of how you treat your blended family will make it an easier transition. It will also make your family happier and strong enough to overcome whatever curveballs are thrown at you along the way.
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Featured Image Credit: Jessica Rockowitz