There have been thousands of books written about parenting, but in this sea of parenting literature, the role of stepparents is often neglected. Stepparents face unique challenges, including dealing with jealousy of the ex-spouse potential fights over child support and custody, and accepting children who are not their own. While no one would claim that being a stepparent is easy, following a few simple rules can help to minimize common conflicts. Here are the keys to being a good stepparent:
Talk About Family Rules and Roles
Different families have different expectations about the role a stepparent will play. Will you be a third parent or a new family member who is more like a friend? Talking openly with the kids and your spouse about the role you’ll play in discipline and family can help head off conflicts before they start. Be sure to listen carefully to any concerns the kids have and work with them to find a resolution.
Respect the Children
While some people find it easy to settle into the stepparent role and love their spouse’s children, others find it more difficult and may find themselves resenting the children. Remember that, no matter how stressful your new role is, it is one you chose. The children didn’t get a choice, so it’s understandable that they may act out from time to time. Put yourself in their shoes and do your very best to be a loving presence in their life. If you are persistent in showing the children kindness, they are more likely to accept you as a family member and third parent.
Don’t Badmouth the Ex
Whatever you do, do not get embroiled in conflicts with your spouse’s ex. You can only make them worse. Moreover, hearing you badmouth their other parent can be extremely damaging to your stepchildren. You may find the ex difficult to deal with and may not like him or her, but it’s your spouse’s job to deal with any conflicts that arise, not yours. Vent to your spouse or friends, but never badmouth a child’s parent directly to the child.
Don’t Compete With the Kids
Some stepparents, despite their best intentions, find themselves jealous of their spouse’s children and set up various tests that put them in conflict with the children and force their spouse to “choose.” This is bad for you, bad for the kids, and bad for your relationship. Your relationship with your spouse is categorically different than the children’s relationship with their parent, and neither can replace the other. Focus on integrating into a family unit rather than trying to be more important than that unit!
Allow Open Discussionn
Though it can be painful to feel rejected by your stephchildren, you should foster an environment in which they feel comfortable sharing their feelings and concerns in a respectful way.
Be the Adult
Similar to the mandate not to compete with your stepchildren, it’s important not to get embroiled in childish fights with them. This is especially common with stepparents of older or adult children. Avoid this at all costs!
Show Unconditional Love
Like it or not, you’re a parent now, and this means you can’t cut off a child, stop speaking to the child, or decide you dislike your spouse’s child. No matter how mean a stepchild can be, you are the adult and the parent, and it’s your job to provide them with love, even if you feel like they don’t always deserve it. Gaining a stepparent can be difficult for a child, and showing them unconditional love, even when they’re not particularly lovable, makes the transition easier and makes them more likely to accept you.