How to Be a Good Step-Parent
Tips for Making a Blended Family Work
Becoming a stepparent comes with several challenges, but taking a proactive approach to blending families makes the transition easier.
Tales of wicked stepmothers abound, but your story doesn't have to be a nightmare. Being a good stepparent takes patience and intentional effort toward creating a functional blended family. Stepkids sometimes need time to accept the new family dynamics. Build the foundation for your new family with simple ways to strengthen the relationships.
Communicate With Your Spouse
Presenting a united front with your new spouse is essential for making your blended family work. And the only way you can be on the same page is through lots of clear communication. You may already know how things work in the family regarding homework, chores, discipline and bedtime. Chat about anything you're not familiar with, so your stepkids get the same answer whether they come to you or your spouse.
Let your spouse know if you're feeling uncertain about things. For example, if your stepkids aren't being respectful, talk to your husband about the situation. Talking about your feelings as they arise is much healthier than letting the negative feelings build up until you explode.
Set House Rules
Work with your spouse to come up with house rules that foster respect and safety. It's tough if you and your spouse have different ideas on what the kids should be doing or boundaries you need to set. That's where your strong communication skills come into effect. Take time to explain your reasoning for a particular rule, and really listen to one another. If you're pushing for an earlier curfew than your spouse, explain why you think the kids need to be home earlier. Then, listen to his reasons for letting them stay out later. You may need to both compromise a little to come up with a set of rules.
Once you are clear as to the rules, have a family meeting to ensure the kids understand the expectations. These rules may be better received coming from their biological parent, but the way you present it depends on your relationship with the kids. Enforce the rules consistently to show that you're actually going to follow through with them.
Being a good parent takes balance and the ability to know when to step back. Some situations are best handled by the parents. That means you may need to let your spouse and his ex work together to deal with a discipline situation, for example.
It's also important to encourage your stepkids to spend alone time with their biological parents. You want to be part of the family activities, but kids can feel as if they're pushed out of the equation when a parent gets remarried. Let them have one-on-one time with their parent, so they understand that his love for them hasn't changed.
Discipline is another area that can be challenging. If you try to discipline too much, your stepchildren may fight back or insist you can't discipline them because you aren't their real parent. Work with your spouse to find a balance of discipline that works in your blended family.
Focus on Needs
To get them to like you, you may be tempted to shower your stepchildren with gifts, experiences and other things they want. There's nothing wrong with having fun with your stepkids, but it's important to focus on the things that kids really need. Love and affection top the list. They also benefit from having boundaries and consistent rules and expectations.
Plan Activities as a Family
No matter what the relationship is like between you and your stepkids, it's important to do things as a family. Plan family time together. Start your own traditions as a new blended family. This time together helps you bond with your kids and have fun as a family. Don't try to force these interactions, though. Your stepkids can tell if you're trying to fake the fun with them.
Watch What You Say
You may want to get involved in the parenting decisions. It's true that those decisions can affect you, but it's often best to let your partner and his ex handle these situations. His ex can make things very difficult for you if you try to overstep or insert yourself in those conversations.
It's also important to watch what you say around the kids. Bashing either of the parents leaves the kids feeling upset, resentful or angry at you. No matter how your partner's ex acts, she's still the other parent, and her kids need to be able to love her, spend time with her and talk about her freely without feeling judged.
Give It Time
Going from a single-parent home to a blended family is an adjustment for everyone involved. Your stepkids may have a tough time dealing with the emotions they feel. Those mixed feelings often come out in unloving ways, and you may be the target. It's challenging, but try not to take it personally. Be consistent and patient in your interactions.