Behavior Matters by Tera EsterAbout 40-50% of married couples in the US divorce each other. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is noted to be even higher. Therefore, it is important for those adults in subsequent marriages with children, work even harder for the success of their children, which impacts the success of their new marriage. Very often subsequent marriages include blending families with multiple children, which can be a difficult transition for all. Below provides some guidance to those couples considering marrying again that have a child/children from a previous marriage.

Setting Expectations in Stepfamilies:

Prior to a stepparent moving into the home, it is imperative that the parent and future stepparent establish family expectations. The two should literally sit down and write out each expectation for the entire household. Yes, this means the parent and stepparent should follow the same expectations in order to model appropriate behavior and “practice what you preach” for your family! The expectations could be anything from putting your dishes in the sink after dinner to using respectful language and tone of voice with one another (expectations should be worded in positive language). Setting expectations is especially beneficial and vital for blending families with multiple children from both sides. By establishing such expectations in your home, expressing and showing the unity between the parent and stepparent, the stepparent does not become the stereotypically labeled “wicked stepparent” for trying to enforce a rule that may have never been established within their original or biological family.

It will be important to sit down with your family and children to review the expectations together. However, it is almost even more important that it is clarified to the children that BOTH the parent and stepparent developed and agreed upon the expectations. This will show the children a unity between the parent and stepparent and that you are “in this together” for the success of the family.

It may be difficult for a parent and stepparent to establish such expectations after the children lived with their biological parents, which will be different from living in a stepfamily. Within the children’s original or biological family comes the possibilities of their biological parents inconsistently enforcing rules, the lack of one of the biological parent’s involvement in discipline, no clear expectations previously clarified or communicated to the children, disagreement on parenting styles and so many other possible factors. Therefore, it is essential that prior to the remarriage, that the parent and future stepparent come to a unanimous decision as to what they expect of the children/stepchildren and how they want to parent together.

As a stepparent, don’t get caught in the “stepparent trap” of moving in and taking charge as the disciplinarian in the home and immediately telling your stepchildren what to do. This will most likely turn ugly fast! “You’re not my mom and can’t tell me what to do,” or “You’re not my dad and my dad says I can do that!” It will be essential, especially at the beginning of the transition, to enforce the rules but to do so gently and after building connections with the child/children prior to the remarriage.

Let us consider 14-year-old Sara, who has just finished getting ready in the bathroom to go to school. Sara left her hair dryer, brushes, flat iron and styling spray sprawled across the counter. Dad has already left for work and stepmom will soon be leaving to take Sara to school and then head to work. Stepmom is gathering her bags for work and walks by Sara’s bathroom, which is also the guest bathroom. Stepmom says, “Sara, don’t forget that your dad and I decided that your hair accessories need to be put under the sink in the bathroom before you leave for school. So, it looks like your hair accessories need to be put under the sink before we leave in 10 minutes, please.” This should encourage Sara to put her hair accessories away before she leaves. If not, then about 5 minutes before you are going to leave, and in a level tone of voice, state to Sara, “It must be tough trying to get everything done before we leave in the morning. We can talk on the way to school about how I can help you in the mornings, if you want, but first I need you to please put your hair accessories under the sink so that you can still earn your afternoon privileges.” Therefore, the stepmom is not threatening or forcing Sara to follow through with meeting the expectation and thus putting up hazards to building connections with her stepdaughter. Instead, the stepmom is staying calm, using a level tone of voice, and building connections with Sara while also enforcing the expectations established for the family.

For more information on setting expectations and building connections, read about the training that Tera Ester offers called Positively Motivating Others- Parent training.