Taking on the role of step-parent can seem a daunting challenge. So many factors enter into becoming a good step-parent. How old are your step-children? How long have you known them? What type of attitude does the ex-spouse of your partner have towards you and the marriage in general?
What kind of relationship do the children have with the ex-husband or ex-wife? Will you have the children in your home the majority of the time because your spouse has full or primary custody, or will you just see them on weekends and holidays?
With so many questions to consider, no wonder many step-parents sometimes feel inadequate! Just remember, however, that you are not alone. With the divorce rate as high as fifty percent in the United States, new marriages many times involve not just the husband and wife, but the children from a former marriage.
So, how can you make sure things go as smoothly as possible? You need to consider the ages of your step-children. If they are toddlers or elementary school-aged, then typically they will be easier to form a relationship with. The key to this age is to spend as much quality time with them as possible, both with and without your spouse.
You want to make sure and alleviate any fears and doubts they might have about their new situation by creating a strong family unit. The trick is to focus on these children not as your spouse’s children but as your children, too. If you act this way and believe this way, then sooner or later, the children will start to feel this way, too.
Even though the children are young, you still need to take your time getting to know them and allow them time to get to know you. Let your spouse be in charge of discipline and major decision making. Your role should involve playing games, reading books, helping with homework, etc.
If your spouse’s ex is very involved in the children’s lives, don’t try to take that mother’s or father’s place, but instead, show them that they now have someone else in their lives who loves them along with their parents, grandparents, and any other relative. If your spouse’s ex has little or no contact with the children, you should gradually take on more responsibility, with your spouse’s guidance, in the areas of discipline and decision making.
Becoming the step-parent of a teenager takes a little more finesse. Teenagers will quickly form an opinion of you. Hopefully, it will be a positive opinion, but don’t be surprised if it is a negative one. If it has been a long time since her parents divorced, then she might welcome a new addition to the family. On the other hand, she might resent the fact that someone new is changing the family dynamics.
If it hasn’t been that long since her parents have divorced, she may look at you as the reason for her parents splitting up, or, at the very least, as someone who is keeping her parents from reuniting. Of course, this is all probably extremely unfair, but fairness usually has nothing to do with a teenager’s state of mind.
Just remember that you are the adult, and you need to act accordingly. When you become part of this new family, it is extremely important not to act too pushy. Even if you get your feelings hurt because of your step-child’s words or actions, try not to show it. If they realize that they have the power to hurt you, teenagers may use that power more and more often simply because they can.
If they try to engage you in an argument or try to force their parent to take sides with them against you, try to diffuse the situation either by laughing it off, talking to them in a reasonable manner, or calmly walking away. Hopefully, you and your spouse can work together to handle the situation. Remember, your spouse is in a tough situation, too.
He or she doesn’t want their child to think they have chosen you over him or her. On the other hand, your spouse doesn’t need to give into every whim and tantrum that their child might have.
Just as with younger children, you need to try and create a whole family unit by spending time together. Leave the disciplining and major decisions to your spouse. Support your step-child in subtle ways such as attending their ballgames, plays, chorus and band concerts, and other extracurricular activities. Offer to help them with a subject they are struggling within school, and if they turn you down, don’t take it personally. Leave the door open, so they know they can approach you when they are ready.
Show them how much you love their parent. Don’t try to take the place of their other parent. Never criticize your spouse’s ex in front of the child. If there is a problem between your spouse and his or her ex, don’t make it your problem in front of your step-child. In other words, don’t give the teenager in your house any reason to dislike and distrust you, and eventually, in time, he or she should come around.
Time does tend to heal all, and becoming a good, effective step-parent is no exception. Just remember that everyone in the situation probably needs to adjust in some way, whether it is you, your spouse, your spouse’s ex, or your step-children.
Take the time to get to know all the wonderful qualities that your step-child has, and give him or her time to find out the same about you. With a lot of patience, love, and acceptance, you, your spouse, and your step-children can eventually become a real family.Take the time