First steps towards forging a successful step family

After the initial difficulties surrounding the separation with your previous partner have taken place – and you feel that you have successfully re-framed your relationship and established a successful co-parenting one together – you might then feel ready to move on with your love life. If you do eventually meet someone that you connect with and this blossoms into a long-term relationship, it will inevitably pose a new kind of co-parenting difficulty.

Although you may love the idea of making your new partner a firm part of your child’s life, attaining this is not going to be entirely smooth sailing. It could, at first, be a serious struggle for your child to come to terms with this, and you need to accept that. It may also be a difficult step for your ex, bringing to the surface feelings of jealousy and insecurity, so you need to draw on the strength of your co-parenting relationship to communicate with each other openly and honestly.

In a previous article, we spoke about how to handle your feelings and cope with any difficult emotions if your ex’s partner became your child’s new step-parent. But, in this article we will consider the reverse, and offer some advice regarding what to do if your long-term partner now wishes to fulfil the role of step-parent for your child.

Be realistic – this will take time

Making your new partner a part of your child’s life was never going to be something that would happen overnight. This is a key thing to admit to yourself, as it will go great lengths to helping you respond to any setbacks in a much calmer way.

Of course you’re bound to hope that your child will think that your partner is as top notch as you obviously do, but don’t let that get in the way of your child forging a natural bond with them, or lead you to hurry on this process. You may find that your child isn’t all that keen, or even actively dislikes them, at first. You need to accept that this may be the case, and respect their feelings towards your partner, without letting your bias (or hopes) influence or pressure these feelings.

Let the relationship take its time to form (there’s no rush, after all). But, the tips that follow will certainly help things grow in a happy and healthy way.

Consider your child’s feelings and perspective

As much as you did when the separation was taking place, you need to consider your child’s perspective of the matter, and think about how they must be feeling.

One of the reactions that your child is bound to have is that your new partner is presenting a replacement of sorts. This could come about if your child was secretly hoping that you and your ex would eventually get back together; your child might guiltily feel like this new step-parent could be replacing their biological parent in their life; or like the step parent is displacing them as the most loved person in your life too. Also, appreciate that it is naturally going to be strange and difficult for your child to see this hard piece of evidence that you have moved on and do not love your ex anymore.

This could then show itself in any form of emotions for your child, including feeling bitter, angry, upset or just deeply disappointed. This is something that they need you to talk them through, helping them to understand their feelings. Tell your child just how much both of their parents love them, and reassure them that their relationship with both parents cannot be threatened by this change.

It might seem strange, but make sure that you are spending plenty of one-on-one time with your child, as this will go great lengths to helping them embrace their new step parent. Through this, they will see that the step parent presents no threat to your relationship, so they can then build a relationship with your new partner without this lingering fear or air of resentment (it makes sense, when you think about it).

This is where communication is key – as well as speaking to your child about how they’re feeling (and ensuring that you do this in a neutral, non-judgemental environment where you are listening to them in full), bring everyone together as a family to speak about everything. A family mealtime is an ideal opportunity to get everyone openly communicating any joys or difficulties with the current situation.

Ultimately, the best thing that you can do is keep an eye on how your child is coping with the transition, and make sure that they can always come to you to talk about it. Just give them the time, support and love that they need on the way.

Speak to your ex about the change

Involve them in this transition as your child’s co-parent (without going into any unnecessary personal details). Keep them in the loop, so that they do not feel threatened or worry that they’re about to be swiftly booted out of your child’s life.

As you establish this new stepfamily, the step parent (so long as the biological parents are fulfilling their role) unequivocally does not hold claim to an equal relationship with the child. There have to be boundaries put in place, in order for this new dynamic to be a successful one. A step parent can act as a fantastic figure in the child’s life without needing to replace the other parent.

Try to work out key things like: determine what your child will call your new partner, establish a clear set of rules concerning discipline, and ensure that cooperative communication continues as you navigate this new challenge to co-parenting.

You’re bound to respect the opinion of your new partner, but you should only ask for their input concerning the parenting of your child in private – not having these discussions take place in front of your ex or your child, because only you and your ex hold this level of parental authority.

Make sure that your child continues to have the same level of regular, predictable access and quality time with both biological parents, so that everyone involved builds trust, comfort and confidence in the new situation.

Let your child and partner establish their own relationship

Meanwhile, as your child and partner navigate their new relationship to each other, try to let them figure it all out for themselves. Don’t force it – allow them to define their feelings toward each other, how they would like to label it, and so on.

You can help them to bond in a natural, authentic way by giving them the opportunity to spend time together and build up a relationship that is strengthened by routines and shared experiences. Instead of constantly taking them on expensive days out together, it is just as (if not more) rewarding for them to get to spend time together in a more ‘real’ way. This could be by spending more casual dinner times together, or creating your own shared family rituals, like charades, films, cooking, whatever you enjoy.

It’s important that your new partner is able to establish themselves in your child’s life in their own right, without being forced into a position where they’re replacing the child’s other parent in anyone’s minds. Everyone – your ex, your new partner, your child and indeed yourself – should be made to feel as comfortable as possible, and be able to communicate well with each other as you all navigate this new scenario. Remember, it doesn’t matter that this isn’t the stereotypical picture-perfect ideal family network that you see in films, you can create something just as special together.

Article Created By Josephine Walbank

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