September 16th is National Stepfamily day, a great opportunity to honor your blended family while acknowledging that parenting in general -- and stepparenting in particular -- is no easy gig.
It's unrealistic to pretend that your blended family is identical to a traditional family in every way, but you can still accept it as normal and celebrate what you have. With as many as 36 million stepmothers in the United States (when adult stepchildren are taken into account), some studies project that 40 percent of all women will be part of some type of blended family (married or not) at some point in their lives.
"Spending time with your stepfamily and fostering meaningful relationships is the best way to honor and celebrate it," says Dr. Rachelle Katz, author of "The Happy Stepmother." "Setting aside time for fun activities -- or even just mealtime -- with the whole stepfamily will give you the opportunity to celebrate your blended family.
Adding new biological children to an already-blended family has its pitfalls as well. One may think that avoiding the topic until the baby arrives may soften the blow, but that could just cause new, more difficult, problems. "Stepchildren shouldn’t be treated any differently than biological children when being told about a new addition to the family," Katz says. "The news should be shared with the same sensitivity and understanding parents would give to biological children."
Don't assume that your bundle of joy will be accepted immediately and/or wholeheartedly by your stepchildren, though -- regardless of how old your stepchildren are. This piece advice may be upsetting, but it's worth considering: "In the situation of a blended family, I would recommend not having any expectations that stepchildren will form close bonds with the new baby in the family," Katz says. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel, however, and it's not an oncoming train. "If parents are relaxed about stepsiblings and half-siblings developing close relationships with each other, there is a greater likelihood that this will occur," Katz points out.
One major pitfall that step parents face -- and stepmothers in particular are vulnerable to this -- is the feeling that they are required to do all of the work that bio parents do, but receive none of the credit or affection biological parents can expect in return. Katz offers four ways you can avoid feeling resentful, put-upon, or tapped out.
1.) Enjoy your time with your stepchildren. "Stepchildren should be assets, rather than liabilities, to stepparents." Katz says. "Since quality relationships are built from one-on-one interactions, it’s a good idea for stepparents to spend private time with each stepchild in meaningful and pleasurable ways. It is easier to develop a caring, loving, and friendly relationship with stepchildren when stepparents don’t have the burden of all household responsibilities and can simply enjoy time together instead."