The steps required to establish the couple as the foundation relationship of the home can sometimes feel like a win-lose situation for biological parents and children. It’s not, however, rather it’s a matter of significance. This doesn’t mean a spouse matters more than children, but that the marriage is essential to the stability of the home. In fact, a healthy marriage equals safety and protection for children.
A biological parent making a strong commitment to their spouse, the stepparent, doesn’t mean the children get neglected. Couples who make a commitment to their children even if they aren’t together anymore–the children will receive the love and support they need. Healthy relationships within stepfamilies are about the biological parents choosing both their spouse and their children while giving primary significance to the marriage. Believe it or not, placing your spouse in the “front seat of your heart” is also good for the kids.
Managing a healthy dynamic in a stepfamily is a challenge at first, with numerous barriers to overcome:
The Guilt. Yes, children suffer a lot when a parent dies or their parents divorce. If the biological parent blames him or herself for the breakup and feels guilty, he or she may try to protect their children from future stress. Should the parent becomes paralyzed by this guilt, the temptation to coddle or side with the child against the stepparent is forever present. Unfortunately this prevents the child from getting over the sadness of the breakup, and interferes with the stepparent’s authority towards the child. This is something parents cannot afford.
Refusing to Take Risks. Biological parents have to take risks to move their spouse into a place of priority. Children may threaten to spend more time with the other parent, or become angry, or close themselves off to the stepparent as a way of discouraging their parent from getting too deep into the marriage. However, taking risks will ultimately pay off!
A Stepparent’s Misstep
Biological parents often feel resentful when stepparents push them away from their children. The “me or them” mentality eventually pushes the spouse into a defensive position supporting the children. No good comes of this. Stepparents need to support their spouse’s relationship with their children, not try to come between them.
Giving Your Marriage Priority
So how can a spouse make the marriage the priority when the children came first? Check out some practical tips:
- Set a regular date night and keep it. This helps children understand that your relationship is important.
- Biological parents should strive to trust their spouse (stepparent). Maintain that they have goodwill toward your child even if they complain. Try to give the stepparent equal say in parenting decisions and remain a team.
- Always support your spouse in front of the kids. Back up their parenting decisions and insist that children treat their stepparent with respect.
- Talk of your commitment often. Verbally express love to one another in front of the children, show affection, and talk about your future together to reinforce the permanency of your union.
- Stepparents should tell their spouse to spend special time with their biological children in front of them. This shows you are not in competition with them.
- Biological parents: spend one-on-one time with your kids and stay involved in their lives. This demonstrates that they haven’t “lost” you and makes it easier for them to accept your marriage.
- When children shows signs of stress or anxiety as you give priority to your spouse, remember to be sympathetic, but don’t let them guilt you into “taking their side.”
- If children challenge the stepparent’s authority, respond firmly but with compassion. Acknowledge the child’s confusion and frustration and move on.