By: Lainie Harris, Penfield Children’s Center
Being a stepparent can be very fulfilling. It can also be very challenging. The blending of families is often both beautiful and chaotic. According to kidshealth.org, the initial role of a stepparent is that of another caring adult in a child’s life, similar to a loving family member or mentor. While every family situation is different, there are often similar questions and challenges for all stepparents.
Here are a few tips and tricks on how to be a good stepparent.
- Don’t try too hard
- Talk to your new spouse (and their ex!) about how you are all going to be a parent to this child
- Encourage the child’s time with both of his biological parents
- Have weekly family meetings
- Don’t set your expectations too high
- Don’t overstep your bounds
- Don’t take it personally
“Blending a family is like a dish that takes a long time to cook,” says Molly Barrow, PhD, author of How To Survive Step Parenting. “You can’t force it before it’s ready.”
Being yourself is the key to any successful relationship. Being honest is the best way to maintain a healthy relationship with your step child. “Many stepparents try too hard to create an instant bond,” says Christina Steinorth, MFT, author of Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships. “Though they have good intentions, many stepparents try to buy their stepchild’s love through lots of gifts or by being the really cool parent. Kids can see right through that.” Trying too hard can be very emotionally taxing for both you and your step child.
Arguably the most important part of being a stepparent is figuring out how to parent with the child’s biological parent or parents. Figuring out a parenting plan with your new spouse and his/her ex is crucial.
Many factors may affect the transition into step parenting.
- How old the child is
- How long you’ve known them
- How long you dated the parent before marriage
- How well your spouse gets along with his/her ex
- How much time the child spends with you
Family meetings are an important time not only for the family as a whole, but also for each individual. Family meetings may sound intimidating, but they are really just a time for each family member to share his/her thoughts and feelings.
Ask for both positive and negative feedback from your child or step child, and always be open to suggestions.
Don’t set your expectations too high. Christina Steinorth says, “You may feel that you’ll be able to step into a new family and have the same interactions, feelings, and bonds you share with your biological children. What new stepparents seem to forget is that they have a shared history with their biological children that they don’t have with their stepchildren. Give your ‘new family’ time to develop its own unique dynamic, without any pressure of how you think it should be.”
A similar dilemma that many stepparents have is how to discipline a step child.
Excessive discipline should never be used in an attempt to gain respect.
It can be a good approach to allow the primary parent to discipline children for the first year, and later, speak with your partner about if/when he/she feels it is appropriate to help with discipline.
Your step child may say to you, “You’re not my real mom/dad.” This is how a child takes power away from your role. Do not take any hurtful things that your step child says to you personally. It is most likely a reflection of the pain he/she is feeling from his/her parents’ divorce or the remarriage of one of the parents. Remind the child that while you may not be his/her biological parent, it doesn’t mean you love or care about him/her any less.
What are some negative stereotypes about stepparents and how can you reassure your step child that they aren’t true?