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Stepparenting, Step-By-Step

person at the top of long stairway outsideFamilies are complex organisms that are constantly growing, constricting, and adapting to daily life. On the outside, family is a beautiful word that gives people warms fuzzies. But when you’re becoming a stepparent, these beautiful organisms you once watched contentedly from afar become up close, personal horrors. Not only are you afraid of stepping on toes, kid germs, familial boundaries, and so, SO much more, you are afraid of turning into the evil stepmother or sinister stepfather.

Well, just relax as much as humanly possible, and let us breakdown the situation for you. We’ll include some helpful pointers, too.

Their Point of View

Some children are reluctant to let a stepparent into their lives, and some are overjoyed to have another parent in the house. The stepparents with the adoring stepchildren may have it easier, but there are still the parental boundaries to hash out with the children’s biological parent, and that is no easy task. Yet those with the reluctant stepchildren have a more difficult situation to juggle, so we’ll focus on them.

The best piece of advice anyone can give to stepparents (especially those with reluctant stepchildren) is not to push the relationship. We don’t mean give in to every demand and treat the children like princes or princesses. We mean don’t expect to be best friends right away. Don’t plan tons of outings together, don’t spend excessively on them, and don’t buy matching anything.

Stepchildren aren’t evil demons out to get stepparents (usually), but they are children. They feel powerless, torn between families, and unsure. If the other biological parent is in the picture, they may be waiting to be given “permission” to like you or may feel as though liking you is a betrayal to their other parent.

So whatever you do, just give the stepchild time to get used to the idea of a stepparent without suffocating them or patronizing them. Give them their space, and they will come seeking a relationship when they are ready. Warning: This may never happen in the way you would like, but no one every said being a stepparent was easy.

Your Conundrum

Huffington Post blogger Wednesday Martin put it best when she created a little list of things to avoid in her blog, “When and Why You Shouldn’t Put the Kids First.” This list handles the silent struggle between stepparents and stepchildren, and that is the struggle over the biological parent. To stepchildren, their biological parent is theirs’ and their other bio parents’; this perception is ruined when a stepparent enters the situation. The stepparent claims a part of the biological parent the stepchildren cannot claim, and that the other bio parent has relinquished. In essence, it’s an odd territorial standoff between the stepchildren and the stepparent.

So instead of aggressively trying to win the battle, and instead of forfeiting to placate the stepchildren, simply accept your place as the biological parent’s partner. However, this requires joint commitment, so make sure to talk things over with the biological parent.

  1. When the stepchildren visit, make them a part of your household’s routines; don’t make the plans all about the children and their wants; that sends the message that their parent and their new stepparent’s life is secondary to theirs’. Make it equal by maintaining the household rituals.
  2. Sometimes the biological parent may try to show the children they matter by making the relationship with the stepparent secondary. This is most often exhibited by limited affection and contact with the stepparent. For you biological parents, this is a poor route because it alienates your new spouse and fails to unite the family. So continue to show affection for your new spouse, even in front of the kids. (Just don’t go overboard. Kids don’t even want to see their bio parents make out.)
  3. To the stepparents, don’t sacrifice your sanity, relationship, or time to win over your stepchildren. The stepchildren will make themselves available when they are ready to be in a relationship with you, so don’t take desperate measures to make that day come any sooner. Maintain the relationship with your spouse, maintain your health, your work, and the rest will follow in time.

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