Becoming A Step-parent? Here's What You Should Know!
No one prepares you to be a step parent. It is not a life skill that you nurture from a young age. Nor is it instinctive. And to make things more complex, you adorn this role at a time when you are faced with multiple new challenges in life – you might be a widower/divorcee person marrying another widower/divorcee with children. You might also be a single person marrying a widower/divorcee with children. In both the cases, you have a new spouse, a new set of in-laws, a new home, new set of relatives and the challenges that come with ‘moving on and starting new’. And when you add fragile, confused children to the mix, it becomes much more complicated.
While step-parenting, much like biological parenting, is all about patience, love and communication, we hope the following tips help you to cope and excel at it!
10 Tips For Becoming A Great Step-parent
Be realistic: As a step parent, you would expect the same warm and close relationship with your step children, as you would with your biological children. While this is ideal, it is not always realistic. At least not in the beginning. Expect the children to be confused or withdrawn at best and hostile at worst. Also if you set your expectations too high, you will exhaust and overwhelm yourself to do everything “right” and even then not get the results you anticipated
Don’t rush: The bonding will not happen as fast as you would want to. Do not anticipate instant love. This journey will be slow – it takes as much as 2-4 years for the families to be fully integrated. Be prepared for it. Be patient. Some experts suggest that you should not assume the role of a “parent” right away. As a parent, you would want to discipline the children. However, if you start disciplining without building trust, then they might not listen to or respect you. So, first build trust by being caring and responsible. Then adorn the role of a parent.
Show interest: One of the best ways to start the relationship with your stepchildren is by trying to understand them better and showing interest in their lives and activities. Bear in mind not to hover over them all the time. Engage them in conversations that interest them
Engage in new family traditions: Have some fun together. Make Sunday “cooking with family” day, have picnics, play some game together or go boating. Do not over impose. Take your spouse’s and children’s feedback all the time.
Don’t ignore house rules to please them: Some parents try to win trust and love by playing “cool”. By this, we mean that they let the child have his/her own way in an attempt to make him/her like them better. While disciplining from first day is not favorable, it is harmful to go overboard to make them like you. If you give in to their whims in the initial stages, soon they will take charge of the relationship and even be rude to you. Make rules, and enforce them
Consider both your new relationships (with the spouse and with the step child) on a balance: Many step-parents tend to go all out on making and strengthening a bond with their stepchildren that they de-prioritize their relationship with their new spouse. This is a wrong approach. Do not neglect your marriage. When you have a healthy and loving relationship with your spouse, the children sense the positivity in the family. This will help them accept you better
Don’t EVER talk badly about previous parent: Don’t do this. How much ever tempting it is to. Just don’t. When you comment on the personality or the parenting skills of the biological parent, either of the two things might happen (a) your stepchild agrees to your view and becomes depressed that the actual parent doesn’t love him/her as much (b) your stepchild disagrees with you and defends the actual parent and in the process loses trust in you
Earn love and respect: Just because you married their parent, do not expect your step children to love and respect you instantly. Both these need to be “earned”. Be gentle and caring, show that your motives are pure, behave in a way that makes it clear to them that you are a kind and generous parent. Be consistent about all these – then they will come around and start loving and respecting you
Don’t do it alone: Understand that step parenting is not your responsibility alone. You and your spouse (who is the biological parent) need to collaborate to make the step parenting successful. You guys need to work together as a team, be consistent in your approach and work towards the same goal. The biological parent can help the children understand the role of step-parent well
Don’t take it personal: Your stepchildren are, well, children. They do not yet have the maturity to understand why their real parent has been “replaced” by you. Many kids are not happy with this change and you might bear the brunt of their unhappiness. They might be rude and disrespectful to you, and might openly say they prefer their “real” parent over you. Please do not take this behavior personally. As they grow and mature, they will understand the family dynamics better and would accept you. Till then, do not play the “I want you to like me more” game
Special Step-Parenting Cases
When you have a child: There are so many equations – both old and new – in your life. Accept them. Your children need to bond with your spouse. You need to bond with your new stepchildren. Your children and your step children need to bond. You need to bond with your spouse. And at the same time, you cannot compromise on the warmth of the old relationships – the ones you have with your children and the ones your spouse has with his’/her’s. One key factor that will help you with the children is consistency. Be consistent with the rules, the show of affection, the food provided, the time spent and the general level of interest. This can be difficult initially but this should be your goal so that no child will feel like an “outsider” in your family
When you do not have a child: Moving from single and childless to married and parenting is a big leap. What you need initially is a crash course in parenting. Understanding your stepchildren’s ages and developmental stages is a great first step. This way you can develop parenting skills appropriate for the physical, emotional and social state of the children. But mostly, use your common sense to deal with them. Be patient and consistent in your behavior
When you are the step-mom: The biggest challenge for you is to overcome the “evil stepmother” stereotype your step children would have grown up hearing. Some of the things you can do to overcome this image is to show a genuine interest to understand your step children better and to assure – both in words and actions – that your intentions are pure
When you are the step-dad: Fatherhood is not as instinctive as motherhood. So life becomes all the more difficult as a stepdad. Many experts suggest that it is unwise to insist on your stepchildren addressing you the same way they do their dads (e.g. papa, dada, daddy). This is especially true if the biological dad is still alive and the children have good relationship with him. However, you have to be a dad to them. Do everything actual dads normally do – acting with responsibility, playing with them, taking them to places, offering advice, helping them with homework and so on. This should put you on a good pedestal with them
When the kids are older As it is most teenagers are rebels and rule-wreckers. It becomes all the more difficult if they are presented with a new step-parent whom they are expected to be close with. Teenagers and “expectations” do not go hand-in-hand. As a step-parent, some of the things you can do it to not giving in to their mood swings – establish rules and teach them breaking rules will have consequences. At the same time, be respectful, treat them as adults and help them make wise decisions about their future
When the kids do not live with you: This happens when your spouse is not the custodial parent. The advantage here is parenting is not a 24×7 or full-time undertaking for you. The disadvantage is that you have fewer instances to bond with them. Some of the things you can do is to stay involved in the children’s lives and activities by positive communication with the actual parent, make yourself and your home more welcoming when they come to visit and avoid commenting on their custodial parent’s parenting approach as inferior or bad. One of the best things you can do for your child and family in such a situation is to maintain a positive and respectful relationship with the custodial parent