Years ago, marriage and family therapy scholar and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Jeffry H. Larson gave counsel to those learning to fill the role of stepparent. His advice is as applicable today as it was then. We were inspired by the latest episode of Happy Families, featuring stepmom Nandi Goodjohn, to share his wise words.
Nandi has two kids from a previous relationship who live in South Africa. She and her husband take care of his 8-year-old daughter, Dior, who spends every other week living with her mom.
“With all the stuff that you see about stepmoms on TV, you kind of have to teach by actions that not every stepmom is bad,” Nandi says.
Jeffry has several ideas for stepparents who are wondering which actions they can take to show their love and fulfill their responsibilities in the family.
Adjusting the family structure and culture requires focus and patience.
Jeffry says, “The expression ‘time heals’ can be applied to the development of unity in a stepfamily.”
He shared the words of one stepdaughter, speaking of her stepmother: “When I saw my two youngest sisters cuddled up to this woman while she sang them little songs she made up, I knew it was right. She was to be our new mother, and we all needed her, especially those two. As we grew to know her, we all eventually grew to love her. … From then on it was more a matter of time. Slowly, with all of us pulling, we became closer, a family again.”
Reject the misconceptions about stepparenting.
On one hand, do not believe that stepmothers and stepfathers are better or worse than other mothers and fathers. On the other hand, do not be discouraged if some family members are slow to accept the new situation. Remember: patience.
“The instant-love myth assumes unrealistically that love is immediate and takes little time to develop. Such expectations may prompt parents to immediately judge themselves as failures in blending two families,” Jeffry says.
Decide on the method of discipline.
“Discipline is an important key to stepfamily unity,” he states. “It bonds the children to the parents because discipline shows the children that the parents are concerned about their welfare and behavior.”
In order for discipline to be effective, parents must agree early in their marriage on rules of behavior for their children. Otherwise, everyone will be confused. While spouses may have different methods of teaching, clear communication and understanding will make it possible to settle on a standard.
Respect the family’s bond with the biological parent.
No one can replace a child’s biological parent in her or his mind, and Jeffry suggests that no one should try to.
“By respecting a stepchild’s relationship with her or his [biological] parent, the stepparent shows genuine love. This respect takes the stepparent out of competition for the child’s affection and frees the child to develop a close and often affectionate relationship with the stepparent,” he says.
No matter your situation (or location), you can always turn to Heavenly Father for help, thanks to prayer. You will be given comfort, direction, and anything else you truly need when you pray with faith.
Praying together, as a couple and as a family, will strengthen bonds.
Jeffry says, “Family prayers expressing gratitude for stepchildren or stepparents can warm everyone’s heart and soul. … Since family relationships are essentially spiritual, invite the Spirit into your home.”
Do you have experiences as or with a stepparent? What have you learned? Share your tips in the comments.