Tips for Stepparents
THE U.S. Bureau of the Census predicts that stepfamilies will outnumber traditional families by 1995. By then, 59 out of every 100 children will live in “blended families” (families with a stepparent) before they reach 18 years of age. Following are just a few suggestions to help the growing number of stepparents.
Give It Time: Stepparents must remember that it takes time for stepchildren to accept a new parent. Mental-health professional Mavis Hetherington explains why the first few months—or years—can be so difficult: “In the early stages of remarriage, both sons and daughters are hostile, sulking, negativistic and angry not only at their stepfather but at their mother. They’re mad . . . at their mother for remarrying.” Stepparents must try to understand the feelings of the children, challenging though that may be.—See Proverbs 19:11.
Build a Good Relationship First: Joy Conolly, in her book Stepfamilies, wisely cautions that stepparents will be in a better position to correct their stepchildren’s behavior after they have built a good relationship with them. In the meanwhile, it may be best for the natural parent to handle needed discipline. (Compare Proverbs 27:6.) On the other hand, stepparents can give children a sense of continuity by supporting the routines they have long enjoyed—such as taking long walks or playing games together. Stepfathers, though, should not use mealtimes as occasions to lecture the family.
Avoid Favoritism: The stepfather or the stepmother should avoid, if possible, any evidence of favoritism toward his or her natural offspring, however difficult this may be at times.—Compare Romans 2:11.
Draw Close With Caution: A recent study of stepfamilies found that it is often particularly difficult for stepfathers and stepdaughters to get along. One author put it this way: “Stepfathers reach out, and the girls shrink back. Stepfathers try to exert some discipline, and the girls fight back.” The author summarizes: “It seems there is nothing a stepfather can do, early on, with girls that is successful.” Great patience and empathy are thus needed. While girls appreciate verbal praise from their stepfather, they often feel uncomfortable with physical gestures such as hugging. The stepfather should be aware that a girl might feel this way. If she does, he should put more emphasis on verbal praise and discussion than on physical displays of affection.—Compare Proverbs 25:11.
Beware of Jealousy: Experience shows that many a stepdaughter tends to perceive a stepmother as a competitor. A stepmother who anticipates and empathizes with the girl’s feelings may thereby wisely prevent unnecessary power struggles. The father can do much to relieve tension by reassuring his daughter of his continuing love and esteem. (Proverbs 15:1) Researchers caution that stepmothers often try too hard and too soon to become parent figures for their new stepdaughters. Again, patience is the key.
Being a stepparent is far from easy. But it can be done, as thousands of successful examples show. And remember, the Bible gives the best advice for success in any family situation when it says: “Clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Colossians 3:14.