Moving into a step family has been compared to emigrating from one culture to another.
Each family had its own cultural norms and family rituals, much in the same way that different countries / regions / religions have their own cultural norms. When thinking about immigration moving from their country of origin immigrants experience a loss of familiar physical, social and cultural environments. They can also experience a loss of a common language, belief systems and socio-economic status.
Similar experiences happen in step families, for step children there is a loss of the familiar, possible differences in economic status, difference s in family culture and a change in relationship to both parents. When forming a new family, in a similar way to adjusting to life in a new country, everyone needs to learn the new rules and norms of the new family. If this is not handled correctly and sensitively can be a major source of stress and tension.
Before new cultures and family rituals in a forming step family can be established the old ones need to be understood, accepted and respected. The changes need to be navigated and introduced sensitively.
Cultural differences can include:
- Eating: where, when, how, what you eat- likes and dislikes.
- Bed times and bedtime routines
- Ways of speaking: accents, slang, loud, quiet.
- Social: How to behave in social situation, manners, expectations.
- Family traditions: Ways you celebrate holidays, Easter, Xmas, Birthdays.
These cultural differences in families will be formed from each of our families of origin; each will have their own way of doing things and these will be passed down. When we marry and have children we blend these cultures and traditions to form our own family traditions and ways of doing things. Complications may arise when moving into a step family and we try to blend all these traditions, routines and rituals. .
Acknowledge the differences in family cultures and look at what is similar and where compromises can be made.
Children feel safe with their traditions and are often reluctant to give them up in favour of the step families’ way of doing things. Allowing children to maintain some of their old traditions can be a positive way to make them feel secure, at home and welcome.
It is also important to look at ways in which your new family can begin to establish some new traditions and rituals of its own, such as family outings, special meals, and ways of celebrating special occasions. These take time and should not be rushed but before long your own family culture will begin to emerge.