Being a stepparent can be both challenging and rewarding. When a stepparent learns how to deal effectively with challenges, that’s when the rewarding part enters in. It takes time, patience and a hefty measure of compassion. Being a stepparent is different than being a biological parent, but it can be filled with an equal amount of love and joy. Many grown children have praised their stepfather or mother, proclaiming them to be one of the sweet blessings of their lives.
Here are 7 tips to help you reach your goal of happy stepparenting.
1. Remember that you are the stepparent and cannot replace the biological parent whose responsibilities you are partially fulfilling. Help your stepchildren understand that you do not intend to replace their parent. They will respect and like you more for making that clear. It takes a burden off their shoulders because they don’t want anyone replacing their mom or dad. Now they are free to enjoy you as a friend who cares about them.
2. Let the biological parent be in charge of disciplining his or her children. This doesn’t mean the stepparent does not play an important role in the disciplinary process. Dr. Phil McGraw said, “While I don't believe it's very likely a workable situation for a stepparent to be a direct disciplinarian, it's extremely important that the stepparent be an active supporter of the biological parent's disciplinary efforts. Both biological parents and stepparents should discuss the rules of the house and negotiate an agreement for what standards the children will be held to.”
Backing each other up is the only way it can work. Once you as parent and stepparent have agreed upon a rule or method of discipline, you need to stand together. It’s always best for the biological parent to state the rule, then for the stepparent to say you agree and will support their mother or father in this.
3. Don’t bash the biological parent. If you say negative things about your spouse’s ex, your stepchildren's “real” father or mother, they will most likely hate you for it — even if it’s true. If you know something bad about the person, it’s best left unsaid. Children of divorce already carry a burden about what may have happened to break up their original family. They don’t need it compounded by reminders or accusations that may or may not be true. Negative comments will come back to bite you in the long run.
4. If you have children of your own, don’t try to convince yourself that you love your new mate’s children as much as your own or that she or he loves yours as much as hers or his own. It’s not possible. Love takes time. The time may come when you will feel the same depth of love for each child, but it won’t be automatic. Love takes time to develop, especially in blended families. Be patient.
5. Allow your stepchildren to vent their feelings. Regarding research on this point, BYU Magazine reported on a study that found, “Children who say they can air grievances about the stepdad with their moms are more likely to report greater closeness with the stepdad. ‘There’s something about a child having a safe place to complain and talk.’” The study went on to show that “If the biological parent becomes defensive, the children may come to feel that they can’t talk to their own mother anymore.” Children need to talk with their parent about their concerns without either parent or stepparent being offended. When this is allowed, stronger stepparent relationships are developed.
6. Have fun with the kids. Take the heaviness out of their lives and have some good times together. Recently a teenage boy told us, “My step dad is way cool. He knows how to have fun with us.” When you have fun you create a bond. Having good times together makes the difficult times more tolerable.
7. Love your spouse — their biological father or mother. Your stepkids need to see you showing love and respect to their parent. They will more willingly accept you into the family if they see this happening. They are desperate for a good example of marital love. You can provide that by showing tenderness and understanding to your spouse, not fighting, over areas where you disagree.Disagreeing is part of marriage. It’s how you negotiate the differences that shows your children that marriage can work.
One of the harshest things that can happen to a blended family is for the children to begin to feel security and love from a stepparent only to have it yanked out from under them. Another divorce in the life of a child can be devastating, even if they at first tried to break you up with the hope of getting their biological parents back together. Somewhere along the line kids need to see that marriage works. You can give them that assurance by the way you treat your spouse — their parent.
Pat yourself on the back
Sometimes stepparents become so overwhelmed by what isn’t happening that they fail to recognize how well they’re actually doing. Review these seven tips and acknowledge the progress you are making. Besides being patient with your family, be patient with yourself. With dedicated effort happy, healthy relationships will be developed.
Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer and lyricist. Together they present seminars and author books on relationships. Their website is garyjoylundberg.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org