Stepparenting Do's and Don'ts
Be an awesome stepparent! Keep these tips handy as you move forward in your new relationship.
You are wildly and madly in love. You decide to take the next step in your relationship and move in together. You can't wait to spend every day together. But there's just one thing -- the kids (his, not yours together). So now, whether you're ready or not, you get to try stepparenting.
Your dreamboat comes with some extra cargo, so what should you do? More importantly, when it comes to being a great stepparent, what should you not do?
- Do Have Lots of one-to-one Time.
The stepparent-to-child relationship is important to build. "Everyone needs one-to-one time," says Dr. Patricia L. Papernow, a stepfamily expert and author of Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships. That includes the couple, the kids with their parent and the kids with their stepparent (or future stepparent). Find an activity you can do together, Papernow suggests, such as going shopping, playing a round of miniature golf or letting them teach you something.
- Do Take it Slow
"Be aware that the changes from the children's perspectives are much more traumatic and vastly different from those of the stepparent," says Judy Graybill, a certified stepfamily coach. "We're in complete bliss. Children are in chaos through the entire process." The slower you can approach things and make changes, the easier it is for the kids to adjust.
- Do Let Kids Have Their Say
"Get the kids' input on how the blended family will work. That doesn't mean what they say goes, but their ideas should be considered. They should feel like they are being heard," Graybill says. "Have family meetings and promote discussion." It's vital that you don't take over when it comes to stepparenting.
- Do Talk to Your Partner About the Kids, But Tread Lightly
"Have personal discussions away from your children," Graybill urges. "When you are having those discussions, don't say, 'Your kids did -- ' It doesn't go well. The parent is immediately on the defensive. A better way of approaching it is with a curiosity factor -- 'Why do you suppose your daughter said it in that way?'"
- Do Realize That Building a Stepparent-Child Relationship Takes Time
How long will it take until your stepkids love you? As Papernow says, "This varies hugely. It could be years to build relationships. You cannot make your stepkids care about you. You can spend time together. Use kind language. Say hello and be polite, but true bonding takes time -- sometimes years."
- Don't Start Off as a Disciplinarian
You shouldn't step directly into a disciplinarian role, says Papernow. Yes, kids need boundaries, but it should always be up to the biological parent to lay down the law and discipline their kids.
- Don't Put the Adult Relationship First
Many people in a stepparent situation "get confused about priorities," Graybill explains. "There are two main ways of thinking – putting the kids first or putting the relationship first. There is a lot of confusion about it, but both are true. You have to give equal time to both your kids and to your partner – and it has to be solo time." You should do your best to give yourself time with your partner and encourage your partner to have equal time with their kids. It shouldn't be a tug of war.
- Don't Insist on Going to Family Events
"Family events can be difficult. Sometimes the stepparent needs to avoid these events for a while," Papernow says. Don't let your feelings be hurt if you aren't included. These relationships take time to build. Stick around and one day you'll be invited and included.
- Don't Think Creating a Blended Family is Like Blending a Smoothie
"That image of a stepfamily – that image of blending -- is not like making a smoothie," Papernow cautions. "Think of all the little glitches there could be." Don't expect to create a sweet blended family just by throwing everything into the blender. Do expect that your stepkids are used to doing things differently.
- Don't Compete With Your Partner For Attention
"Sharing is hard. You are going to feel left out," Papernow acknowledges. Get used to it!