Stepping Up to the Plate
One Big Happy Stepfamily
During the early stages of stepparenting, it’s especially important for family members to spend quality time with each other individually and, less often, together as a whole unit. “I believe one-on-one time is better during this period,” says Papernow. “Having the whole family together too often may cause too much tension.”
When it’s your time to be with the children, Papernow suggests that you engage them without your spouse in “shoulder-to-shoulder” activities, such as playing sports or cooking, instead of sitting down for a long talk “eyeball-to-eyeball.” “Doing something together instead of just talking takes some of the pressure out of the situation,” she says.
Marcus says the first 30 days is also a good time for your spouse to spend more time with the children. He says biological parents should be “aware of how difficult it is for [the children] to welcome another person into their lives,” he says. When your spouse is spending time with his or her child, you can take advantage of alone time to recharge your batteries and do something you enjoy, such as having lunch with a friend or taking an art class.
When Michael Saffron*, a 48-year-old office manager from New York, became a stepfather 10 years ago to two young children, he and his wife worked hard to bring the family together. In his case, he found that the routine of everyday home life—going to school, watching TV together—helped them bond more than any family vacation or one-on-one time. “Regular, daily life in the house, without extended family members around and dinners together every night at 6:00 p.m. really helped,” he adds. “To me, it was important to have good downtime at home.”
Embracing the ex can also help to bring a stepfamily closer. Experts suggest that you befriend the ex early on so that the children will see you embracing their parent’s presence, and at the same time you can talk about the nuances of parenting your stepchild.
Michael allowed the children’s biological father to visit often. “We created an open door policy with their father,” he says. “There were no restrictions. He could come and go whenever the kids wanted him there, to help with homework or whatever.” Michael believes that welcoming their father into his home helped him to connect even more with his stepchildren.
Having your own biological child also has a bonding effect on the family. The baby is after all, bonded by blood to every member. And although some children may react negatively to a new half-sibling in the house, they soon develop a connection with that child that strengthens the family as a whole.