When you marry someone with kids, especially if you have children of your own, we all think “the Brady Bunch” and dream of a beautifully blended family. But step-parenting in fact presents an array of personal and social challenges. Chances are that while you work to create good, positive, happy relationships with your step-children you will face some challenging setbacks.
The first step in reducing your step-parent stress is to accept that you aren’t going to be perfect. Relax, take it slowly, and learn how to navigate within the relationships that comprise your new blended family. Also give yourself a break…step-parenting is not easy!
Here are a few things that a step-parent should never, ever do:
Don’t bad-mouth the biological parents
You have your opinions. You can share those opinions with your spouse when the children are away, but never around any of the children – yours or your spouses! Perhaps the ex is way too lax about rules. Perhaps you really don’t like him or her or think he or she is a liar. Whatever it is you are feeling and thinking, keep it to yourselves around the children. Your step-child has the right to love his or her parents even if you see them as imperfect.
Avoid getting involved in disputes between your step-child’s biological parents. Do not interpret your spouse’s venting about troubles they are having with their ex as an invitation to join in on the fight. Be supportive, understanding and empathetic…but do it from afar and in particular not in the presence of your step-children. Regularly make it clear to your step-child that the relationship he or she has with their biological parent does not change just because you are present in your step-child’s life. The child should never feel the need to choose a side.
Don’t try to replace a parent
Again, the challenging role of a step-parent is tough and uncertain. But no matter how bad the biological parents are, you aren’t able to replace them. Trying will lead to big-time resentment by the parents and often the step-child. Be your step-child’s support system, role model and mentor. But never forget the biological bond that a child and their biological parent share. Be sure not to cross that line and never allow a child to feel they must make a choice between you and a biological parent (even if it is the biological parent asking the child to do so) …bow out if necessary.
Don’t be a disciplinarian
One of the keys to maintaining strong step-parent relationship is to resist taking on a disciplinarian role. Maintain order and report violations of house rules to your spouse. But do not be the person who imposes punishment, even if your spouse asks you to do so. It is the fastest way to kill all the hard work you have put into building a relationship with your step-child. When parents are not doing the job that you think they should be doing, you can be their cheerleader, but stay off of your soapbox.
Don’t play favorites
Step-child or not, no child should be forced to face the fact that he or she may not be your favorite amongst the children in your life. Try not to show favoritism. If you have biological children, it is o.k. to assure your children that you remember they are biologically your kin and that nothing can ever change that…but it is wise to assure all your children (step and biological) that you love them all more than life itself and that fact will never change as well. Children know at some level that particular children please you in more ways than other children. But they will suffer if they see it blatantly played out in front of them. Choose your words wisely!