I am the product of a stepfamily. Therefore, when I informed my mother and stepfather that I was dating a divorced dad of three, they were willing to entertain the idea that my life would resemble their own and not the cookie-cutter version fed to them in their youth.
But in addition to being steadfast in their encouragement for me in my transition to stepparenting, they immediately reached out to my sweetheart’s children and included them in their family circle. My parents were on board from day one of my adventures in stepparenting and have not waivered in their support. They know the ropes and they have been willing to share their experiences along the way.
However, they not only provided the groundwork for me to share my life with my stepchildren, they also became champions of the little Lacys.
Before vows were ever taken, my sweetheart and his children attended Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays at my parents’ home to ensure that the kids felt welcome and nurtured in their new environment. Throughout the years, my parents attended ball games, birthdays and graduations. They shared vacations and holidays. They even dispensed advice on topics from the outrageous to the mundane.
Inclusion from extended family members, including your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc., can be a crucial element in the progress of your relationship with your stepchildren. By getting to know your “people,” they get to know you. As your stepchildren learn about you, they become aware of you as a person and not just the figure who stepped in to be a new authority figure in their lives.
These new ties also will reinforce the fact that you are a family. The current make-up of the family is not the same as the family of origin. Members may not share the same name or live in the same home. However, it is the shared experiences and values that will bond you together as your family evolves.
In essence, having extended family support may ensure not just a smoother transition for you and your stepfamily, it may build bonds that carry throughout your stepchild’s life and transcends the familial relationships established by a new marriage.
But don’t limit yourself to just family members. Allow your friends, your co-workers, and your church pals to become part of the village that uplifts you and your new family. Welcome them to get to know your brood. By reaching out and growing your own support system, you have grown your stepchildren’s circle. You have provided them access to an entire network of people whom they otherwise would not have known without you.
New family members and friends can be a positive aspect of establishing a stepfamily. Perhaps one of these folks will introduce one of the kids to a new hobby or career choice. Maybe they will offer a different perspective on issues from you or your husband.
The day my niece Jillian was born, my stepdaughter Kate visited her in the hospital. Jillian has never known a life without my stepchildren in it. They are her cousins and she has always referred to her cousins as “Aunt Gara’s kids.” Only in the past few years have we spoken to her about stepfamilies. We’ve explained to her that her Paw is our stepdad and that my kids are actually my stepkids. It’s no matter. To her they are the people who have always been in her life, part of the greater circle that makes up her clan. As she ages, she will know the assurance of older cousins who have paved the way. And when we are gone, she will have a shared history with my stepchildren to enhance her own memories of our extended family.
It has been well-established that children do not focus on numbers. Thus, there should be few, if any, repercussions from the result of having increased numbers of relatives whether they be biological or step. In addition, the same holds true for extended family members and friends. Positive role models in a child’s life provide an even wider sense of community and belonging.
Personally, it’s important to have people in your life who are eager to see you succeed in your choices and weather your challenges. Who are those people for you? Find those who help you stave off anxiety, pray for you in your darkest hour and celebrate you being you. Gather their resources and their resilience, and channel that enthusiasm for the journey ahead. Yet, don’t stop there. Invite them to acquaint themselves with your new life. While your people are building you up and keeping your eye on the prize, they may be paramount in doing the same for those little people in your life.
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