How to Be a Good Step-Parent

Anyone who has taken on the responsibility of being a stepparent knows how challenging and difficult step-parenting can sometimes be. Depending on the ages and number of children involved, becoming a blended family and learning how to be a good stepparent to children not biologically your own can either make or break your relationship with your spouse, since statistics of divorce amongst second or third marriages don’t offer much encouragement.

Being a stepparent and dealing with stepchildren is not something you can just jump into and expect everything to go smoothly from the start. It takes a lot of work and effort to create a loving bond and build upon the relationship with stepchildren, and it will take some time for the children to accept and adjust to the changes in the family when mom or dad gets remarried.

Common problems with stepchildren include dealing with angry and hurtful phrases such as:

  • You are NOT my mother/father!
  • You are not the boss of me!
  • You can’t tell me what to do!
  • I don’t have to listen to what you say!
  • I don’t like you!
  • I hate you!

Let’s get real, shall we? While hearing such things from stepchildren can be very hurtful, it’s important to remember that regardless of the kid’s ages, children of divorce often fantasize about their parents getting back together and the new mom or dad has cut into the child’s plans of a reunited family. From a child’s point of view, the stepparent is an unwelcome outsider or interloper, often seen as a threat to any possibility of the biological parents getting back together, as well as feelings of jealousy about the amount of time you have with the child’s parent.

To make matters even worse, you may have an angry and bitter ex-spouse to deal with, and the ex may not be too happy about someone else parenting or disciplining their child. Disciplining stepchildren is one of the most common problems between stepchildren and stepparents, so you have a lot of work to do while raising stepchildren and dealing with stepchildren issues in order to establish and maintain a happy blended family.

A few questions you need to consider include:

  • How old are the stepchildren?
  • How long have you know them?
  • How long did you date the biological parent before getting married?
  • How long has it been since the parents were divorced?
  • How does the ex-spouse feel about you?
  • What is the relationship like between the child and the ex-spouse?
  • Will the stepchildren live primary in your home or the home of the ex-spouse? Or,
  • Will you primarily have the children during visitation weekends and holidays?

It is typically a lot easier to form a loving stepparent relationship with toddlers and elementary school-aged children, while becoming a stepparent of teenagers or grown stepchildren is by far the most challenging. Trust me; I know this from personal experience.

Anytime you start a new family dynamic like that of a blended family, there is always a period of adjustment, where everyone in the family (including your own children) learns each others likes, dislikes, house rules, chores, discipline methods, customs and traditions, which can sometimes become overwhelming for children and parents alike.

In order for stepchildren and step families to coexist with one another in a loving and accepting environment, the following guidelines and advice for parenting stepchildren may offer some suggestions you may not have considered yet.

How to Be a Good Step Parent

Re-marriage timing. Children need time to come to terms with and adjust to his or her parents being divorced, so it is best to postpone marriage or wedding plans until at least a year has passed since the divorce. Some couples decide to live together prior to getting married, and if that is your choice, you would do well to give the children a few months to become accustomed to the idea prior to hiring a mover.

Communicate with your spouse. One of the best things you can do for yourself and the entire family is to talk to your partner and make important parenting decisions before getting married. If you are already married, it is vitally important that you and your spouse discuss privately and agree on the various issues and problems associated with raising and parenting stepchildren, especially in regards to disciplining stepchildren, so you both can parent the children as a united team.

Have a family meeting. After talking with your partner or spouse about the various problems and issues that will likely arise between you and the stepchildren, it is beneficial to have a family meeting where these can be discussed with the children together. Here you can discuss what is expected from the children, as well as from you and your spouse. Discuss and explain the chores everyone is responsible for, as well as any consequences of misbehavior, and how disciplining the stepchildren will be handled and by whom.

Create and maintain mutual trust.
Let the children know that you are not taking the place of their biological parent, but that you are just another person added to the family that loves and adores them and their biological parent. Take genuine interest in the child and their activities; attend their after-school events such as dance recitals or football games, read to/with them, play games with them, being sure to plan one-on-time with the children without the other parent around. In order to gain their trust, you must take the initiative to show the child by word and action that you are trustworthy; kids and teens can spot a fake a mile away.

Disciplining stepchildren.
Deciding how to or how not to discipline stepchildren is often fraught with anxiety and stress for stepparents, with the typical phrases “You’re NOT my mom/dad!” and, “I don’t have to listen to YOU!” almost always becoming part of the child’s vocabulary at some point. The quickest way to ruin your credibility and authority as a parent in the home is to simply throw your hands up in the air and do nothing when a child misbehaves, so don’t allow the children to behave like they are immune to house rules while you are responsible for them. Uphold the agreed upon disciplinary actions with the children, without backing down, providing needed discipline in a loving, yet firm manner.

Schedule family time. Planning fun family activities with the entire family helps create new traditions, shared memories and experiences that help to establish a united and cohesive family. These activities don’t have to be expensive, and can include such things as bike riding, watching movies, playing games, doing crafts, going out to dinner, shopping, swimming and planning family vacations. The key is to have fun together, allowing you and the children to get to know one another on a more personal level, rather than being seen as the “wicked stepmother” or bossy stepfather.

Search out and participate in parenting support groups or forums like CafeMom, where personal stories and chaotic situations can be discussed with others going through much the same things, where other parents and stepparents can offer advice and suggestions on what they found works in their family. Be open to read helpful parenting books about being a good stepparent, as well as having the children read books about being in a blended family.

There is no magic pill for being an effective stepparent, but with patience, love and mutual respect, your blended family can eventually become one big, happy and real family.

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