How Stepdads Can Become Part of the Family

April 9, 2013  |  
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According to the Pew Research Center, 13 percent of adults in the United States have stepchildren, and with the high divorce rate, it’s likely that number will grow. Still, just because there are lots of stepfamilies doesn’t mean it’s easy. A new study from Brigham Young University has advice for stepfathers who are trying to integrate themselves into their new families.

Researchers studied data from 1,088 children in stepfamilies. What they found was the greatest problems arise when, right after the wedding, the stepfather assumes too much parental authority or drastically disrupts the family’s way of life. It’s important for everyone to know the new family arrangement they’re starting is going to be hard and it will take some time to work things out. The Brigham Young team found the biggest mistake mothers and stepfathers make is acting as though nothing has changed in the family dynamic, meaning stepdad acts too much as a replacement, and mom taking on all the parenting with stepdad on the sidelines.

Researchers say there are three main things a mother and her new husband can do to help kids adjust to their new lives. First and foremost, mom and stepdad need to agree on how they’re going to parent. They also should keep spousal arguing to a minimum. “Full-blown arguments set up stepfamilies for failure,” said head researcher Professor Kevin Shafer . While the newlywed’s relationship is important, it shouldn’t take precedence over negotiating the family relationship; a happy couple doesn’t guarantee a happy family. Lastly, the mother should be sure to let her children know they can express their frustrations about the new family arrangements— even to their stepfather. The study notes that teens, especially, should be given the chance to express their feelings.

Stepdads, how did you make the transition to family life?

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