It’s been a few years since your divorce, and you’re now remarried.  With characteristic optimism, you’ve started on the journey to co-exist with his children.  And with his ex!  How on earth are you going to navigate this?  

This is a complicated, evolving situation, and one that I’ve encountered many times as a divorce and family mediator.  There are lots of moving parts to consider.  

Let’s start with the dos and don’ts:

DO understand that it’s possible to establish a new, loving relationship with your step kids.

DON’T try so hard that it seems insincere, or that they think you’re trying to replace their biological mom.

DO share stories about yourself with the step kids so that they can get to know you as a person. 

DON’T assume parental authority with them unless their immediate safety is at risk.

DO spend time creating new memories and new family traditions.

DON’T get in the middle of an argument between your spouse and your step kid.

DO work with your ex by reassuring him that you’re on the same team.

DON’T badmouth the biological parent.

These seem pretty obvious, right?  Yet in the heat of the moment, we often react without giving added thought to the words we’re using and the message we’re conveying.  Remember that kids are sponges.  They soak in everything they hear as well as the stuff we don’t think they heard.   

I’ve had the privilege of working with blended families over the years in order to help them resolve a variety of issues.  And they’ve taught me a thing or two about what works.  Here are some insights:

  1.  Allow the kids to choose what they want to call you, and then even if you have to pretend, make sure they think you like it.
  2.  Let the kids and your spouse resolve their conflicts without your input.
  3.  Even if it seems impossible, do your best to build a peaceful coexistence with your spouse’s ex.  
  4.  Be determined to value your spouse’s relationship with his kids, instead of focusing on petty jealousy.
  5.  Resist the temptation to discipline your step kids.  If you find yourself getting angry, simply walk away.
  6.  Unless your spouse specifically asks for your advice, don’t offer it.
  7.  View your stepparent role as a supportive adult rather than a substitute mom, or as a friend.
  8.  Be patient with the kids.  Their respect and love will come in due time.

If this seems like a lot to absorb, you’re right.  It is.  So, I’m going to add another insight, and that is to be patient with yourself and your spouse.  Establishing a cohesive, respectful and caring blended family takes time.  Mistakes are going to be made, and all you can do is learn from them.  

Being a warm, caring, and supportive stepmom is like hiking up a hillside.  There may be rocks and weeds along the way, and you may have to deal with a tumbleweed or two.  But the view at the top will be breathtaking.