One of the biggest challenges facing kids of divorced parents is attempting to live up to the expectations of all of the adults in their lives – moms, dads, stepmoms, and stepdads. When the adults use the child as a weapon or a wedge, the person who loses the most is the child. There is a direct correlation between the behavior of children in school, their social functioning, and the stability and security of their home life.
Kids can survive divorce, remarriage, and new family structures. Kids are versatile, adaptable, and capable of learning to live by multiple sets of different rules. (They do it between school and home, between home and Grandma’s house all the time)! That versatility in your child stems directly from the security and safety they have with their surroundings.
If ex-spouses or stepparents are always fighting with each other, using the child as either a point of negotiation or a threat, the child feels diminished and objectified. No, your child will not necessarily be able to put that in words to you, but at any given age, you’ll experience the results: younger children become clingy and whiny and may regress; older children become violent and angry or withdraw.
Don’t assume your stepchild is simply acting out or misbehaving. As a stepparent, certainly don’t take it personally or assume the child is behaving the way he is simply to punish you. Look for the underlying cause of the behavior. Try to determine whether the child might be feeling neglected or insecure. Talk to your stepchild; reassure him or her that you are there for him or her and want to help.
All of the adults in the child’s life should be working to create a safe and harmonious environment for the child. The safer the child feels, the less stress there will be on the entire family. Stepparents can play a key role in creating this environment for their stepchildren by consistently reassuring the children with your actions. By listening to, respecting, and communicating with your stepchildren you can help the child understand that you are not a threat.
Open communication is critical – it’s important that you talk to your kids about the changes that will be happening in their lives. You and your spouse should work together to ensure that you maintain open communication with children and stepchildren – whether you see them every other weekend or they live with you full-time. Make sure to listen to their concerns about the way things are changing and acknowledge the concerns they have.
You can build a healthy blended family, but it takes the effort of all of the grown-ups to make it possible. Children need to know that they are wanted and loved, regardless of custody, marriage, or new siblings.