The Brady Bunch. Step by Step. Modern Family. Many of us can identify a TV-created stepfamily from some generation and see similarities. Exaggerated happiness. Short-lived issues. Everybody getting along.
In reality, stepfamilies face many challenges not expressed on the small screen. However, despite the obstacles and differences that each stepfamily has, there is one thing that every stepfamily has in common: a starting point. Identifying ways to smooth that transition can benefit all family members when creating a new family unit.
Meet the Gregoire family of Stafford. Jason, a member of the United States Marine Corps, and his wife Leslie were married in December 2011. Leslie has a 4-year-old daughter, Nadina, from a previous marriage. This military family is also expecting their first child together. Leslie shares some advice with Fredericksburg Parent and Family on transitioning into a cohesive stepfamily.
1. Allow your child to warm-up to your new spouse.
"A lot of times, a child can have anger towards that new person for trying to step in [to that parental role]. Give the child time to warm-up to the person." Leslie suggests explaining the role of the new stepparent to the child and talking through the changes that might come as a result.
Leslie also suggests giving children, particularly those younger in age, a choice in what they want to call the new stepparent, whether it is their actual name or something with a more authoritative moniker such, "Papa" or "Mama."
2. Share child-rearing responsibilities with your new spouse.
One area that both Leslie and Jason both share the responsibility with is discipline. "Nadina actually responds more to Jason than she does with me, "Leslie says, laughing. "If she does something wrong, she will be sent to her room. After five minutes, Jason will go up and explain to her what she did wrong and then tells her that he loves her. She always knows that even though she did something wrong she is still loved."
3. Strive for good communication with your spouse.
Leslie stresses being able to talk things though with your partner. "We are extremely unified in all decisions we make. If I happen to not like a certain decision he makes, I can always talk to him and I know that he will hear me out and we will come to a mutual understanding. I just hope that if you are going to go and marry someone (and particularly someone that already has children) that even before you take that big step of getting married, know if this is a person whom you can come to an understanding if there is a disagreement."
4. Spend quality time as a family.
Leslie shares that her family tries as much as possible to "create fun" with each other. This includes family outings, reading together and participating in each other's interests. For example, Jason teaches kung fu, an activity that interests Nadina, so Nadina will often want Jason to teach her martial arts moves.
5. Know that there will be challenges and learn from them.
Leslie comes from a Spanish family while Jason's family is Cajun. Leslie admits that there are differences from the way they celebrate holidays to the way both were raised. Leslie states that despite the variances in traditions and culture, she and Nadina have a strong relationship with Jason's family, who welcomed them with open arms.
Overall, Leslie and Jason embrace the differences for the good of Nadina.
"We both understand where we both come from. We try to blend our cultures and traditions together."
Kerry Pinto is a freelance writer living in Stafford with her husband and two children.