As I always say, marriage is tough but remarriage is tougher….well, let’s face it then, parenting is hard but stepparenting is probably one of the toughest challenges you will ever face in your lifetime.
There are no prerequisite courses you can take to prepare for your journey and there are no instruction manuals that come along with it, however, there are some steps that you can take in order to help you through it. Regardless of all horror stories you hear and all of the stereotypical fairy tales about stepparents, you can have successful relationships in your stepfamily life.
As parents of our biological children, it is my belief that we do our best in bringing them up, we trust our instincts and do what we think is best for them. As stepparents, we tend to second guess our instincts at times. Of course most of us want to do what is best for our stepchildren but we tend to second guess in order to avoid confrontation instead of just being ourselves. If you are struggling, I offer you some of the following tips to help you navigate to a successful relationships within your stepfamily unit.
1. Protect Your Marriage. The number one tip I can give you is to decide and make a choice that your marriage will always come first. If the ex-wife calls your phone regularly in the middle of the night to discuss the problems with her plumbing or she just wants to talk – NIP IT IN THE BUD! There is an obvious reason you are in a stepfamily and that means you are divorced! Your new family is based on your new union….protect it!
2. Communicate. Allow your children and stepchildren to tell you how they feel without judgment. Encourage frequent communication and allowing them to have alone time with you and your spouse is very important. Everyone, even children, want to know that their opinions matter to you. They want to know that you hear them and that you are open to listening to them.
3. Empathy. One of the single most important tips I can give you is to have empathy for the position your stepchildren are in. All stepfamilies are created out of a loss; keep that in mind when you have rough patches. Empathy goes a long way.
4. Maintain Normal Boundaries. A lot of stepparents get confused in this area. They feel that they have to overcompensate in order or their stepchild to like or approve of them. You should always maintain the normal boundaries of an adult/child relationship. For example, do not try to become your stepchild’s best friend. You are an extension of their parent not a best friend. A supporter and ally would be a great description of a stepparent.
- 5. Realistic Expectations. One of the hardest subjects I have to put across to my coaching clients is that of having realistic expectations. Parents assume that when they bring a child into a new marriage or relationship that their spouse will immediately fall in love they way they are with their child. This is a totally unrealistic expectation. Relationships are built through time and patience. As I said above, all step relationships exist out of a loss. That is a hard pill to swallow for a child that has just has his/her world turned upside down. Don’t rush your relationship. Build trust. Do your best to create good experiences and you will build a meaningful relationship.
Lastly, remember that children are the passengers on this flight we call a “stepfamily” and sometimes they will feel like they are literally out of their own airspace. They were the innocent bystanders through your divorce. As I stated above, empathy plays a huge role in how we help them to effectively deal with their emotions, feelings and ultimately, their happiness. Tap into their world, be conscious of their feelings and let them know you are there for them unconditionally.
Stepparents, remember this….your stepchildren may never give you what you want or need in return for your love and sacrifice for them. Most of the time it’s not until they are an adult that they truly appreciate the role you play in their lives but I would encourage you to be patient, stay flexible, be willing to compromise and accept that your blended family life will never be perfect. It can however succeed with all of the above.
Peace & Blessings,