Stepping Up to the Plate
Above all, Einstein advises stepparents to have no or low expectations when it comes to creating a stepfamily. It’s easy to come in thinking that everything will fall into place and you’ll have the perfect family on day 1; but the sooner you get that idea out of your head, the less you’ll feel that you have failed as a stepparent when things go awry. “It is challenging under the best of circumstances,” she says. “Even when the biological parents have done a quality divorce and sufficiently helped the children, it’s still hard [on everyone].”
Having no expectations worked for Deborah Stein, a 38-year-old, Chicago-based, charitable-organization director, when she married her husband, a divorced father of two young boys. “I knew that it was not going to be the easiest transition for me or for the children,” she says. “But I knew what I was getting into when we decided to get married.”
Deborah’s realistic expectations also allowed her to help her stepchildren go through the grieving process. “Denying the need to grieve can really keep stepfamilies stuck,” cautions Einstein. And though they may not say it, your stepchild may still have some unresolved feelings about the divorce or the death of a parent and needs to grieve properly.
“My stepchildren gave me a hard time in the beginning and I remember questioning if I even liked them.” Deborah recalls. But she recognized that her stepsons were likely still harboring feelings of grief about their parents’ breakup. To allow them to grieve and ease the transition, Deborah did what she could to make sure the children never felt like visitors in her home when they stayed over. “They had their own room filled with their own stuff,” she says. “We kept clothes at our house so they never had to pack a bag. We even had their school email us their homework so it never got lost.”