Becoming a step parent can come with it’s own unique challenges. Whether it’s how you will interact with the child, or how you will handle backlash from the biological parent, you will definitely need a game plan. I know a few things about step parenting from both angles. My older two children have a step mother, and I am a step parent. Here are 5 things I have learned.
- Set Boundaries
- Ease Into It
- Make Time
- Enjoy It
Communicating with your partner is critical. You need to discuss how they want things handled. Understanding your partner’s situation with the other parent and their parenting style can go a long way. Talk about how the two of you will handle things like house rules, discipline and negative behaviors from the other parent.
For my husband and I, we had a lot to talk about with a blended family. We decided that we would both be responsible for discipline. He would assist me with getting my children to doctors appointments, and would be listed as someone who could make decisions in my absence. However, I would not be assisting him with medical appointments or decisions. (We have since adjusted this decisions as things changed.)
There was also an adjustment to the house rules. I was very adamant about some things that my stepson had to learn. For example, all food and drinks must stay in the dining room. He was used to being able to walk around with food or a cup. My children had to learn new things too. My husband preferred the towels folded a certain way and we changed their bedtime. Another issue we tackled was how I would communicate with my stepson’s mother and how to handle any situations she may create.
You should set some boundaries. What exactly does that mean? Well honestly it can be different things for everyone. Just consider what you can or will do, and the things you can’t or won’t do. Let me explain what that looked like for my family. In the beginning, I would not change diapers or bathe my stepson. Although it would have been nice for my husband to have that help, I set that boundary because of the other parent. Their situation is a high conflict situation, and I didn’t want anyone making inappropriate claims.
I decided that I would take my stepson to exchanges for visits with the other parent, but I would not talk to the other person or react to any scene that may be made. Instead I would simply refer them to my husband. That can be difficult for some people to do. You have a voice, and opinion, and an active role in this child’s care. The point is to remember the only person that you really need to share it with is your partner.
For example, while we were still dating, I was asked if the child was sick. I said that I had only seen him for 2 hours the night before, but at that time he was not sick. That simple text reply was twisted into an argument that she was told the child was not actually sick. It was clear that I could not know the child was sick late in the night when I did not live with the child, but it was still used to create conflict. So, we decided that I would simply respond to everything with something like, “You will have to talk to my husband about that”. It eliminated me feeling caught in the middle of an argument, and I was no longer blamed for things.
Ease into the step parent role. Make small adjustments over a period of time. You don’t have to jump into this role and immediately be the perfect parent. Not even biological parents have the right answer for every situation. It isn’t always easy in the beginning, and your circumstances will evolve over time. What may start as feeling like walking on egg shells, will become a natural role. You may find yourself doing things naturally without overthinking it. Eventually the everyday tasks of parenting will become that easy.
Remember to make time for your relationship. You and your partner need time for yourselves. In a traditional relationship you have time to build a strong foundation before the kids. When you are building a blended family you have to build your relationship while building a family. Let’s face it, parenting is hard enough, but it can be more challenging learning to parent a child that is new to you.
One of our solutions was to set aside time in the evenings that was just for us. We changed bedtime, so we had time to relax together, finish something we had to delay, or discuss something we were not agreeing on. Whatever it is, we set that time aside for us and it helps to keep part of our day focused on our relationship.
Enjoy being a part of the experience. Realize that you have been given a wonderful opportunity. You get to love this child in a unique way. The role you play in this child’s life has will have a huge impact on them. You can either be the one who was always there for them, even though you didn’t have to be. Or you can be someone who makes their childhood miserable. Choosing to love a child is easy. Just don’t forget that they are not answerable for the actions of their other parent.
You are also gifted with the experience of parenthood. You may not have children of your own, maybe they will come in the future, or maybe you already have some of your own. However, one thing you will learn is that each child is different. The joy of raising them is different because each child has their own likes, dislikes and personalities. Since no two children are the same, you have the opportunity to enjoy being a part of raising this child. You will be there for many milestones.
Some of these may seem like silly little things, but even small changes have an effect on everyone in the house. When adjusting to changes in your home, children can have a difficult time. You may also need time to adjust to the new situation. Remember that you are making decisions that are best for everyone. Take the time to cherish being a parent. After all, you don’t have to be blood related to love someone.