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10 Keys to a Healthy Step Family

By Steve Arterburn
New Life Ministries Being a stepparent can be very challenging. Steve Arterburn, of New Life Ministries, offers these suggestions.

1. You must “connect” with the children at their point of emotional need. Remarriage is a challenge for everyone, but especially the children. For most children, their parent’s decision to remarry represents the loss of the dream that their biological parents will reunite. Even children whose parents had a terrible relationship have the fantasy that someday everyone will be happy. The grief associated with this loss is painful and can last a long time.

2. Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. You may not like everything you hear, but your children need a safe and nurturing environment to respectfully share their emotions. The best way to encourage your children to open up is to set the example. When you are transparent about your feelings you foster the security and trust they long for.

3. Have realistic expectations. Getting to know each other will take time. You will not experience instant intimacy, trust and respect. The expectation of quickly becoming “one big happy family” will set you up for disappointment every time. Hope deferred makes the heart sick… Prov. 13:12.

4. Establish new family traditions and rituals. Every family needs to develop its own culture. By establishing traditions and rituals for your new family you provide a greater sense of belonging for everyone involved. Including the children in the process will increase their level of support and cooperation.

5. Be sensitive to traditions that have already been established in your child’s life, even if they don’t include you. If your child has always visited their grandparents for a week during the summer or spent Christmas Eve with their non-custodial parent, don’t suddenly change those traditions. The resentment your child may feel could undermine all your efforts to create new, positive memories.

6. Don’t trash your child’s other biological parent. By showing respect and civility to the other biological parent you minimize conflict and actually strengthen your relationship with your children. As bad as some situations can get, control your feelings and comments. So then, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Romans 14:19.

7. The marriage relationship must be a priority. Every successful blended family has one common characteristic - a strong bond between the husband and wife. Couples in blended families have incredible distractions in their lives compared to most first marriages. Ex-spouses, in-laws, financial obligations, new schools and new homes can rock the foundation of the marriage.

8. Parents must clearly define and consistently follow through with rules for discipline. Many stepparents tend to be too lenient with their new stepchildren in hopes of winning their acceptance and approval. This approach never works. All children need and expect to have boundaries in place, and consistent discipline is one of the most effective and powerful ways of communicating love and respect.

9. Both parents must be involved in establishing the rules for discipline. Parents must always present a unified front when enforcing the rules. Children are very smart and will try to figure out how to play their parents against one another. Parents who don’t allow their unity to be broken are much more likely to gain respect and obedience from their children.

10. Place God in the center of your home. The ultimate key to every family’s success, no matter what the circumstances are, is choosing to make God the centerpiece of your home. To be the kind of parent or spouse you want to be requires wisdom, patience and love. The best way for you to develop these character traits is to have a vibrant relationship with God. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Matt. 6:33

Used by permission of New Life Ministries. New Life Ministries has a variety of resources on men, women and relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE or visit

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