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It is only natural that conflicts exist in stepfamilies, especially new ones. It isnít easy to blend styles of communication, interaction, and the unique needs and expectations of two families. If you are a woman in your first marriage embarking on stepparenthood, here are a few fast rules to remember.

Donít try to love his children. Loving your husband does not have to mean that you love his children. Over time you will perhaps love them, but it is also possible you wonít. In either case, what is important to remember is that you want to establish mutual respect. You and your husband should establish parenting rules that leave him in charge of parenting and the two of you united in establishing a new home life. It is also essential that your husband be supportive of your efforts to blend in gradually and within the boundaries of your comfort zone. It takes time to establish new relationships. Any change in family structure makes everyone feel displaced and uncertain of his or her new roles. As a stepmom, you can alleviate much of the confusion by not asserting parental power. Donít try to come across as a friend either. You are not their peer, and friendships also take time to develop.Let the relationship evolve gently and openly, based on understanding and validation rather than on jockeying for position.

Donít try to prove yourself. You donít have to be a super stepparent or the better wife. Acknowledge that there is another woman in your life. It is your husbandís ex-wife. Although he legally divorced her, they continue to have a parental relationship. You actually donít want that to end, although you may often feel you want her to just go away. Their parenting relationship need not be a problem; rather, it can be a solution toward a highly functioning stepfamily. Keep your eye on your marriage, not on the lack of gratitude his Ex may be exhibiting toward you. Although at times you may feel like a glorified babysitter, keep in mind that you are trying to establish a relationship with his children and create a healthy family life. His Ex is not the center of the universe.Your new family is.

Donít fall into the fairytale trap. You may need to manage the myths of the ďevilĒ stepmother. The myths are partly based on the fear of the unknown and the strong feelings of loyalty to our natural parents. Kids fight to protect themselves and their families. You may be viewed as the intruder, therefore the bad one. No matter how lovely you are, their loyalty to their own parents, and a conscious or unconscious desire for the return of how things used to be is a strong force to tackle. Donít fight it. Help them feel safe with you. Donít get derailed by the mixed signals kids often send. They may want two normal families, instantly, and at the same time assert their strong loyalty to their mom, especially if they are residing primarily with her. You have a choice in responding with patience and understanding to the signal that asks for a loving home.

Meet the challenges of stepparenting by learning what kids need at their particular stages of development. Get them involved in your new family life gradually, always exercising sensitivity to their challenges and yours. This is a transition for everyone.Keep the lines of communication open and your expectations realistic. It isnít easy to become a stepmom, but you can make what seems like an overnight situation into a long-term, more-blended family life.

© Copyright, 2001, 2002, 2003. All rights reserved by Catherine G. Braun, MA

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