How to build a successful stepfamily

When two different families come together as one, the transition is not always easy. But these expert tips can help iron out the challenges.

In real life, a stepfamily doesn’t always look like a version of the squeaky clean Brady Bunch that graced our television screens in the 60s and 70s. And even they had issues of their own.

Stepfamilies Australia say that it takes five years on average for a stepfamily to really bond.

When Jenny Brockie spoke to kids about their experiences of becoming a stepfamily some common themes came to light.

From resenting discipline from their non-biological parent, disliking their new siblings, and jealousy caused by having to share their mum or dad – the challenges stepfamilies face were evident.

And it’s not just the kids that are left wondering how to deal with this all.

How to deal with discipline

Josh, 18, tells Jenny Brockie that when he was faced with a stepdad trying to set rules he resented the authority.

“Like when he used to try to tell me what to do I used to laugh at him and tell him that's not happening and you're not my dad and stuff,” he says.

And he wasn’t the only child in the audience who said they fought back when a stepparent tried to enforce discipline.

Stepfamilies Australia advise stepparents never to be the authority figure.

“All the disciplining should be done by the biological parent,” Phoebe Wallish, executive officer of Stepfamilies Australia says.

She advises that families should come up with a set list of rules together which have set consequences if broken. But she says it should always be the biological parent who reinforces those consequences.

Family estrangement
Strengthening family bonds when creating a stepfamily is crucial. Photo: Getty Images
Getty Images

Bonding

Kye, 16, tells Insight that he still finds it difficult to bond with his stepdad, partly because he has such a close relationship with his biological father.

“I just have like really a strong connection with my dad so it's just like weird for me to talk to like my stepdad about things. I just don't have like the same things to talk about, I guess,” he says.

Wallis says it’s important for stepparents to get outside of their comfort zone and commit to doing an activity with the stepchild that they enjoy, and to do it often.

“If you can find some sort of activity that they love that you could possibly be a part of and then have one on one time that’s the only way you’re going to bond and create those memories,” she says.

“Having those experiences, making those memories will create that bond but it does take a long time.”

Wallis says this is also important to do to keep bonds with biological children strong to prevent feelings of jealousy and resentment towards their stepsiblings who they are now sharing a parent with.

Key tips to remember

  • Get counselling before you bring the family together: Wallis says most people don’t seek counselling until after a family has joined and issues arise. She says outcomes are going to be better if help is sought before.
  • Build new traditions together – but don’t get rid of old ones: Building a couple of new traditions that the family can do together will help link the family Wallis says.
  • Have regular family catchups: This could be a regular dinner, whatever you decide Wallis says the point is everyone in the family needs to come together to talk about how they are feeling about what's happening in the family.
  • Make sure kids have their own space in the house: With multiple people under one roof it can be hard to find space for everyone but Wallis says even just a cupboard or a drawer that the child knows is solely theirs that won’t be touched when they’re not in the house is really important.

Further resources

STEPFAMILIES AUSTRALIA

http://stepfamily.org.au/

https://www.facebook.com/stepfamiliesOZ

Source Insight