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Thriving In a Stepfamily

Understanding what your stepkids are thinking and why can bring strength to your family.

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"Being a stepmom is much more difficult than I imagined," Nancy, a stepmom of four years shared with me. "Since my husband and I are excited about our marriage, we assumed the kids would be happy too. But they're really struggling and I'm not sure what to do."

As a stepmom of more than 24 years I understand her concerns. A few months into my second marriage I was discouraged by the complexities associated with being a stepmother of two boys aged 11 and 13. Learning how to function in a blended family has been a process for all of us. Along the journey we've discovered a few insights on how to succeed as a stepfamily.

Stepfamilies are Formed Out of Loss

According to research an estimated one-third of children will live in a stepparent home before the age of 18, and 50 percent will have a stepparent at some point in their lifetime. Whether death or divorce has disrupted the biological family, children often wrestle with the adjustment. The family unit typically provides a child with safety and security. However, the death of a parent or a family divorce is likely to induce insecurity and fear in a child's life. Nancy continues to explain, "After my husband and his former wife divorced, his kids moved to a different neighborhood plus had to change schools. They attend a new church causing them to lose good friends and a familiar routine. All of this loss has caused them to be angry and sad, and I'm an easy target for their grief."

It's not uncommon for Christians to falsely assume that a stepfamily formed due to the death of a parent is easier on the children than a remarriage after divorce. However, all loss is painful. Kids who are grieving often display frustration, depression, or belligerence. It's crucial for a stepparent to understand how loss can shatter dreams and instill long-term anxiety.

A Healthy Stepfamily Takes Time

About 75 percent of those who divorce will eventually remarry. However, one of the most common misconceptions about stepfamilies is that everyone will bond quickly. "If I had this to do over again, I'd wait to remarry," Don states. "My wife and I both brought children into this second marriage. During our six months of dating everyone got along great, however once we got married that all changed. It's been three years and the children still resent the new family dynamic." Stepfamily expert Ron Deal shares, "The average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate. Parents want to believe their kids will be okay, thus the power of hope blinds couples to the realities of stepfamily integration." Many couples enter a remarriage without understanding that the kids may struggle or battle against the marriage. When parents attempt to rush or force a bond between stepchildren and stepparent, it creates tension and sets the marriage up for failure.

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Thriving In a Stepfamily