Do not attempt too much change too fast. Establishing too many new rules and expectations creates too much instability for children. On the other hand, no change at all in family rules can leave stepparents as strangers in their own homes. Dr. Papernow suggests that stepparent and parent, together, work out, at the most, two or three changes in rules and expectations to start with. Do not expect to “blend” parenting styles, family rules and values right away. Research shows that it takes at least a couple of years for even "fast" new stepcouples to understand their differences enough to begin to forge some new agreements that work for everyone. In Dr. Papernow’s experience, "faster" stepfamilies treat their differences as items to calmly explore and be curious about. "Slower" families argue over "right" and "wrong." Meanwhile, she warns, expect that many differences will remain in place. While this may feel awkward and "unfamily like," Dr. Papernow reminds us that although this is un first-time family like, it is normal in a stepfamily.
Children adjust best when the original parent remains in charge of discipline. Research shows that, generally, when stepparents attempt to directly discipline their stepchildren, it backfires.
Stepparents, as outsiders and newcomers, have different needs of children than their parents do. Stepparents also often have very useful input about children’s needs and issues. Stepparents do need to bring up issues about their stepchildren, but with their adult partner, not directly with the children. In addition, Dr. Papernow suggests, because most parents are extremely sensitive about their parenting and about their children, stepparents will be most successful if they can raise their concerns with kindness and care. And, again, while stepparents do need to give their input, the children’s parent needs to retain final say over rules and discipline.
"Compartmentalizing" works much better than "blending," says Dr. Papernow. Paradoxically, stepfamilies develop best when families carve out one-to-one time throughout the family. The adult couple needs regular time alone without children. Children need reliable time alone with their own parent, without the stepparent. Stepparent and stepchildren need low-key time alone together to get to know each other slowly. Keep time together as a whole new family brief. Expect that time spent in the whole family will often be tense at least for the first years. Dr. Papernow says, "This doesn’t mean you have failed. It just means you are living in a stepfamily, not a first-time family."
|Dr. Patricia Papernow's recommendations for Divorce Partner visitors:|
|Becoming a Stepfamily: Patterns of Development in Remarried Families||Dr. Patricia Papernow|
|Description: Dr. Papernows book is a thorough guide to blending families, and contains concepts and guidelines that are proven to beat the overwhelming statistics against successfully blending families.|
|National Stepfamily Resource Center||Dr. Patricia Papernow|
|Our Sponsor's Resources|
|Other resources in topic area "Blending families"|
|Yours, Mine, and Ours: How Families Change When Remarried Parents Have a Child Together||Anne C. Bernstein|
|Discussion about "Blending families"|