Have you ever walked on a tightrope? It might be just a little like being a stepparent. Balance is essential to keeping things on the uphill slide. Your skill has to be THAT GOOD to keep you from falling on your face. This is not something that is inherent. Especially if you have never parented, stepparenting can be one big ole circus unless you truly want to do what’s right for the kids.
There are definitely some gray areas when it comes to being a stepparent. One of these areas is level of involvement. Many things factor into this. It’s in my opinion that if you don’t like kids, you shouldn’t marry someone with them. This just seems like raw logic. It probably wouldn’t be good for you or your partner and it definitey isn’t doing the kids any favors. But some people aren’t maternal or paternal and that’s ok. As long as you can treat the kids with respect and stay in your lane, things can turn out okay. You and your spouse may feel like your being a more “silent partner” in parenting is the best idea.
Stepparents can be a huge relief to parents when they show up on the scene. If they are willing and able to help out with general child-rearing tasks, this can alleviate quite a bit of stress off of the parent. If the parent has been going solo for a while, it will help tremendously to have extra help with laundry, meal prep, homework, transportation to extracurricular activities and cleaning. This can be done without taking on much of a parental role. You can keep your input minimal regarding rules, discipline, activities, etc. and still help with parenting-related chores
Some stepparents are just natural nurturers. Some simply fall in love with their stepchildren immediately and feel very maternal or paternal towards them. This is ok as long as it’s expression is comfortable for both parent and child. Physical affection, tucking the child in at night, caring for the child when sick and those more affectionate task may lead to a more parent-child relationship between you and your stepchild.
It gets a bit trickier when you have kids of your own in the mix. Blended families can be tougher to manage but treating all kids equally can be done. This is when being a strong unit as a couple comes in handy. Staying unified as a couple can help you avoid treating your kids different from their kids because you will want to do what’s best for the kids and each other.
Regardless of your family dynamic and your level of involvement as a stepparent, there are a few do’s and don’ts that are important to consider so you don’t run things off in the ditch.
1. Let your children take the lead on affection. A child you have been living with since age 2 may be completely comfortable with kisses and hugs at 10. But if you are fairly new on the scene, it may take time for a child to feel this level of comfort. They might never be open to physical affection from you. This is okay. Let them be comfortable.
2. If your spouse’s ex-partner is still involved in the child’s life, be encouraging about this relationship. You do not want to be seen as a rift between the child and parent. Not only will this cause resentment with the child but this can cause tension with your spouse as well.
3. If your own child is in the mix, keep things equal. Rules, rewards and punishments should be the same across the board. This is where a strong foundation with your spouse comes in handy. When you agree on equality in the house it helps alleviate favoritism and helps quell sibling rivalries.
1. Don’t be “in your feelings” all the time. Your stepchild isn’t going to like you sometimes. Maybe they won’t like you most of the time. They don’t have to. As long as they treat you respectfully, they really don’t have to have any feelings of warmth towards you. The more you are okay with this, the more likely you will end up having a positive relationship. Some things can’t be forced and a loving stepparent-stepchild relationship is one of them.
2. Don’t ever speak ill of their parents. This might sound easy but there will be times when your stepchild may be frustrated with your spouse or your spouse’s ex and express these feelings to you. Do not fall into a trap here. Be a good listener. Encourage the child to have open communication with the parent. Be sympathetic. But do not, under any circumstances, jump on a parent-trashing train. This might seem like a way to ally with your stepchild in the moment but it won’t turn out in your favor. Just trust me on this.
3. Stay in your lane. No matter how close you are to your stepchild, some things have to be deferred to the parents. Decisions regarding rules, discipline, health care, social media, etc. should be left to the parents. Some decisions are fine for you to make as an adult in the house. But anything that affects the child significantly or long term isn’t on your roster.
Stepparents and stepchildren can end up having beautiful relationships. The vast majority of this depends on the actions of the stepparent. You will definitely have to take the high road at times to make this possible. You can choose to do this no matter the action of the child, your spouse or their ex partner. A stepparent can end up being the most trusted adult in a child’s life but you must maintain balance and remember your role. Steppin’ ain’t easy, but it’s worth it!!