How Successful Blended Families Support Student Learning
Amelia lives with her mother, her stepfather, and her younger half-brother. She spends every other weekend with her dad and stepmom, and a new baby is on the way in that home. Four sets of grandparents regularly shower Amelia with love, and everyone gets together for her birthday and special school events.
Blended families are a fact of life today. Biological parents and stepparents alike want the children in their lives to thrive. If you’re reading this blog post, you clearly care. But how do you get involved in your child’s education? What’s the secret to working together with everyone in the blended family to support your child’s learning?
Whether your child or stepchild attends a bricks-and-mortar school or an online school, the tips offered here can help adult family members put students first.
Take a Look at Your Blended Family
About 16 percent of children in the United States live in a household with a stepparent, stepsibling, or half-sibling. Perhaps your child has a stepparent (or two). Maybe you’re a stepparent yourself. It’s important to keep in mind that your path toward success may vary depending on five key factors:
- The age of the kids: Younger children may warm up to a stepparent’s involvement more easily, whereas older children and teens may struggle with new, additional authority figures in their lives. Children entering school for the first time or changing schools may need a higher level of support.
- How long you’ve been in the child’s life: If you have a stepson or stepdaughter, forming a close relationship with the child can take time. The first year in particular is an important transition period for all involved.
- How often you see the kids: Maintaining a household with well-defined rules can be challenging if your stepchildren are only under your roof a few weekends a month.
- Family dynamics: Even years after a separation, children may hold on to the possibility that their biological parents will reunite. If a parent has passed away, it may be especially difficult for children to welcome a stepparent into their lives. Half-siblings and stepsiblings may make life even more unpredictable.
- Unique personalities: Each member of the family has his or her own way of dealing with change. Biological parents may be navigating a complicated relationship as exes. New stepparents may be caring for a child for the first time. And any of the adults or children may be experiencing anxiety, sadness, or a fear of opening up.
Keep these circumstances in mind as you move forward, because no two families are exactly alike, just as learning is not one-size-fits-all.
Communication for Stepfamilies
When it comes to a child’s education, no one should be playing guessing games. Keeping the lines of communication open is everyone’s top priority—otherwise, none of the other advice here will work.
Information about the student’s grades or behavioral issues should always be shared as quickly and thoroughly as possible. If a student is struggling with a subject or on a specific project, all parents should be made aware.
Likewise, if a child is showing real promise or progress in a class, both sets of parents should have the opportunity to offer praise. Rules, rewards, and punishments should be consistent from household to household.
Make sure children understand that communication is important for everyone in the family, including the kids. So, if they have homework that needs to be done while spending the weekend with dad and stepmom, they should let those parents know at the beginning of the visit and not wait until Sunday afternoon!
Making Decisions as a Blended Family
Adults should decide in advance if decisions about participation in extracurricular activities can be made by the custodial parent, or if there are circumstances (such as a new sport or an overnight trip) where all parents should be involved. When in doubt, do your best to reach out to the other parents in your child’s life.
If communication breaks down, remain calm, try to avoid finger-pointing, and start fresh. Remember Amelia? Her two sets of parents meet a couple of times a year to make sure they are all on the same page concerning her education.
Planning Ahead for (Step) Parent Involvement
Once everyone in the blended family is communicating, keep the spirit of cooperation going by planning ahead. Families work well together when they know in advance what events are coming up and are alerted to changes in a timely manner.
The LoveToKnow website suggests coordinating schedules between all families by creating a shared calendar. Families should include as much information as possible on the calendar, including visitation arrangements, extracurricular activities, field trips and other school events, parent–teacher conferences, holiday plans, vacations, and more.
Planning as far ahead as possible can keep miscommunication and stress to a minimum. Verywell Family has a helpful list of online calendars that families can use. Amelia’s blended family uses Google Calendar. If your student attends a Connections Academy online school, your entire family can use the calendar in our online learning system.
KidsHealth.org advises stepparents to go slow and not rush a stepchild into forming a close bond before they are ready. Trying too hard can push a child away. Relationships will deepen with time, and it’s best to let them mature naturally.
Stepparents can offer to help with homework, but start by asking questions and listening to your stepchildren. Ask them to tell you about the subjects they like and to teach you what they are learning before you try to teach them something yourself. Once a child feels more comfortable, you can help him or her with subjects that play to your own strengths.
Over time, Amelia has learned that both of her stepparents love and care for her. They rearrange their own schedules to attend her school events, and she knows whom to go to for help with science experiments, math problems, or book reports.
Patience also is helpful when working together with the other adults in your blended family. Frustrations are bound to occur. When they do, try to limit your comments to just the facts and avoid accusing the other adult of poor intentions.
Parents and stepparents should never criticize each other in front of or directly to the kids, even if they are agreeing with a child’s complaint about another parent. When parents are patient with and respectful of each other, they teach children a valuable life lesson.
Don’t Take It Personally
When children and multiple parents are involved, things might not turn out as intended despite your best efforts. Acceptance and going with the flow are important skills to develop—practice them every chance you get!
If a child is not warming up to a stepparent as quickly as the adults had hoped, the new parent should try his or her best not to take it personally. The child may be afraid of betraying the biological parents by working closely with a stepparent on a school project. If attempts to become more involved in a child’s education are not going well, the stepparent might need to pull back without checking out entirely. Make sure the child knows that you are always there when needed.
Putting Children First
Being a stepparent is hard. Being a biological parent is hard, too. But adults should keep in mind that the most challenging role in a blended family is that of child. Whatever your role in the blended family, the child’s needs should always come first. Putting ego and personal desires aside can be challenging, but it will produce positive results.
Every adult in the blended family plays a role in the child’s well-being and education, even if some are more involved than others. When adults communicate, plan ahead, and work as a team, they are living their commitment to making the child their top priority—and the child will flourish.
To learn how parents, stepparents, and other family members can be more involved in your children’s education through online public school, visit the Connections Academy website. Or to learn about online private school, visit International Connections Academy’s website.