by Jennifer Bair, SSW, education director, The Family Place

Families are the most important unit in our communities. It’s the place we call home, turn for help and hopefully becomes our safe haven. Regardless of what our family looks like, building a relationship with our family members is always important. Stepfamilies are no different.

The Washington Post reported in November 2014 that 40 percent of marriages includes one spouse marrying for the second time. As you can see, many people are experiencing remarriages which brings along the challenges that come with forming a stepfamily. Some of those challenges are as follows: parenting non-biological children, children spending time in two homes and dealing with

Even with these challenges, people are still hopeful in marriage and work hard to build a strong family unit. I would like to focus on two areas to help anyone who is or will be a part of a stepfamily. The first is the couple’s relationship while the second is the role of the non-biological parent to their stepchildren

First, the couple relationship: As with any marriage, the couple’s relationship is the foundation of the family. If a couple has a strong foundation, they can overcome problems that may arise.

John Gottman, author of “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” has done extensive research in what makes a marriage work. One way he helps couples strengthen their relationship is by encouraging them to have “magic minutes.” This encourages couples to take some time out of their day to focus on one another. Here are four easy steps for doing magic minutes:

  1. Before saying goodbye to your partner in the morning, learn about one important thing that’s happening in his or her life that day. This will break the “habit of inattention” that eventually turns couples into strangers (two minutes).
  2. Decompress after work by discussing the most stressful parts of your day. This will prevent job frustration from spilling over into your home life. When it’s your partner’s turn to talk, resist the urge to give advice. Instead, be supportive and understanding (20 minutes).
  3. Once a day, spontaneously tell your partner you appreciate something he or she has done or that you admire a certain quality in him or her (five minutes).
  4. Show affection outside the bedroom by occasionally kissing or touching your partner (five minutes).

A second important area to address is the role of the non-biological parent relationship to their stepchildren. This area is especially tricky because some individuals feel they are equal with the biological parent in the children’s eyes. There is a delicate balance between stepparent and stepchild. Research shows it is in the best interest of everyone involved if a stepparent helps enforce the rules. This means they are taking the rules the biological parent has for their children and enforces them as they are; they do not change or create new rules.

However, the biological parent remains the main disciplinarian to their children. It is also important to discuss your role as a stepparent with your partner so you can work as a team and your children know what to expect. It is unrealistic to expect stepchildren to have instant love for their stepparent. This relationship will take time to develop and must be done with patience, empathy and respect.

Families are essential to our wellbeing, and we all want the best for our families. The Family Place is an excellent place to go for information or workshops to help build the strengths your family already has and add new ones. We offer classes for parenting or stepfamilies and welcome families of all shapes and sizes. Please visit our website for upcoming workshops