MARGARET, A STEPMOTHER IN AUSTRALIA:“My husband’s ex-wife told the children not to listen to anything I said—even something as simple as ‘Remember to brush your teeth.'” Margaret feels that her marriage suffered as a result of that divisive tactic.
STEPFAMILIES face unique and often challenging relationships with those outside their household. Most stepparents must deal with the child’s other parent when it comes to such issues as visitation, discipline, and financial support. Friends and relatives too may struggle to adapt to new family members. The Bible can help your stepfamily to meet those challenges.
RELATIONSHIP 1: THE CHILD’S OTHER PARENT
Often, it is the mother and the stepmother who have the most difficulty. What can help?
A key to success: Set reasonable boundaries. If you try to shut out the other parent altogether, your child might suffer emotionally. A child’s parents, the ones who ’caused his birth’, have a unique place in his life. (Proverbs 23:22, 25) On the other hand, if you give a former spouse too much influence in your household, you can frustrate or even anger your new mate. Strive for balance, setting reasonable boundaries to protect your marriage.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
- When you speak with your former spouse, focus on your children and minimize discussion about other matters.
- If you do not have custody of your children, perhaps you can use phone calls, letters, text messages, or e-mail to maintain regular contact. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Some even use videoconferencing. You may have more influence on your children than you realize.
TIPS FOR STEPMOTHERS
- Show “fellow feeling” to the children’s mother by making it clear that you are not trying to replace her. (1Peter 3:8) Provide updates when her children are with you, focusing mostly on the good. (Proverbs 16:24) Ask for her advice, and thank her when she offers it.
- Limit displays of affection with the children in their mother’s presence.
TIPS TO HELP PARENTS AND STEPPARENTS GET ALONG
- Never speak badly about an absent parent or stepparent within earshot of the children. It is easy to lapse into such negative talk, but it is very distressing to a child. And you never know how or when your words may be repeated. (Ecclesiastes 10:20)
- Try to have consistent rules and discipline in the two households. If it is not possible, explain the differences without demeaning the other parent.
- Avoid scheduling activities for your children during the time that they will spend with the other parent. (Matthew 7:12) If you cannot adjust the activity, get permission from the other parent before telling the children what you have planned.
RELATIONSHIP 2: ADULT CHILDREN
How can you keep relationships with the adult children from damaging your marriage?
A key to success: Show empathy. The Bible says: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1Corinthians 10:24) Try to understand and identify with the other person’s feelings. Adult stepchildren may fear losing their parent’s affection. Or they may feel that by welcoming a stepparent, they would be disloyal to their original family. Meanwhile, parents might worry that criticizing their children will push them away.
Instead of trying to force a friendship, let your relationship with your stepchildren develop naturally. In general, it is unwise to try to coerce or pressure someone into feeling real love. (Song of Solomon 8:4) So try to set reasonable, realistic expectations when it comes to closeness with your stepchildren.
If you decide to live in the house that the children were raised in, you may be surprised at the attachment they still feel toward it. Try to minimize changes, especially to their old rooms. You could also consider moving to a new residence.
TRY THIS: If your adult stepchildren are persistenly rude or disrespectful to you, share your feelings with your mate and listen carefully to his or her thoughts. Do not pressure your mate to correct the children. Instead, simply try to build mutual understanding between the two of you. Once you “think in agreement” about the situation, you can work together to improve it.—2Corinthians 13:11.
RELATIONSHIP 3: OTHER RELATIVES AND FRIENDS
Marion, a stepmother in Canada, says: “My parents often gave presents to my son but not to my husband’s kids. We would try to make up for it, but sometimes we could not afford to.”
A key to success: Put your new family first. Tell your relatives and friends about your commitment to your new family. (1Timothy 5:8) While you cannot expect instant love for new family members from all relatives and friends, you can ask them to be polite and fair. Explain how hurt the children will be if they are passed over when it comes to attention and other kindnesses. Try to show love to all the children in the family.
Let grandparents from your first marriage have a place in your children’s lives. A mother in England relates: “Things got better when we included them more, had the kids call them, and thanked them for their support.”
Relationships with those outside your household can challenge your stepfamily. Apply Scriptural counsel, though, and your family can receive the blessing the Bible promises: “By wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.”—Proverbs 24:3.
Photo Credit: Inmagine-ptg02404587