Parenting is hard.
So it makes sense that parenting someone else’s child is potentially even harder.
Like parenting, being a step-parent can be challenging and overwhelming. But it can also be very rewarding.
Just as there isn’t a no-fail parenting guide, there isn’t a how-to for step-parents. But there are certainly a lot of things to consider.
One of the main things experts stress when it comes to step-parenting is that building a relationship with a child takes time. It is important to work towards establishing mutual trust, communication and respect.
The child needs to be reassured are not there to replace their other parent or to come between them and your partner. Loyalty conflicts can cause a lot of stress for children. It goes without saying that bagging out the non-present parent should be avoided at all costs.
Taking things slowly so you and the child can get to know each other is the best approach. Go on outing together, watch a movie or take them to their sporting match.
Parenting expert Maggie Dent recommends avoiding extravagant gestures to try to win their affections. “Just turn up as authentically as you are, with as open a heart as you possibly can.”
Maggie also recommends family meetings to ensure all members of the new family unit feel included and heard, particularly the children.
One of the biggest challenges for step-parents and blended families is discipline. Most experts say it is best to leave discipline to the primary parent in the early stages until relationships are established. Knowing where the boundaries are and if you are over-stepping the mark is important to avoid conflict with both your partner and the child.
As things progress, open communication is a key factor in ensuring that you are parenting on the same page as your partner. Talk to your partner about what they expect from you and the role they want you to play in their child’s life.
Keep it Real
While it would be wonderful for everyone to get along straight off the mark, it isn’t always going to be happy families.
Your step-child may have trouble accepting you or there could be personality clashes. Keep expectations realistic and try not to take things personally if things get rocky.
Try to understand the developmental age and emotional state of the child. These things impact a child’s behaviour greatly. Their reaction to you may have more to do with how they are dealing with their parents’ split rather than something you have done. Or maybe they are just an attitude-fuelled teenager and it’s nothing personal!
Once again, talking openly to the child and their parent can help uncover what is going on.
What a Child Really Wants
All kids want and need to feel secure. Being a stable presence in their life is an important role as a step-parent. They don’t need to you to be their best friend or their second mum/dad. Being yet another adult they can depend on is a great gift.
Maggie Dent also highlights that we can underestimate how much children value the happiness of their parents. As their parent’s partner, you play an integral role in that.
“The more they see their parent happy in the relationship…the more they will feel comfortable with you in their life,” explains Maggie.
Being a step-parent is a huge commitment and responsibility. It is also an amazing opportunity to open your heart to some amazing little humans. And you never know, they may teach you as much as you teach them.