How to be a Successful Step-Parent
In today’s society, becoming a step-parent is a common occurence. The divorce rate remains relatively high as well as the number of unmarried parents. Being a step-parent, however, has to be one of the hardest positions in the world. As a step-parent, you inhabit that awkard position of not being a parent or even a relative, but still living with children on a daily basis. The children often view you as the villain because, to them, you do not belong. When I was a child, I grew up with several step-parents and I would like to share some tips and suggestions that I learned through this experience.
As the significant other of the child’s parent, you claim the position that used to belong to the child’s other parent. To the child, you are an usurper. You disrupt the natural flow of relationships. You also steal time away from that child’s time with their parent. A child’s resentment is natural and to be expected. If you are the first relationship after the parent’s have broken up, then expect even more resentment. No matter what has happened before, that child wants his mother or father back and you are in the way. Try not to resent the child’s resentment. A child in the middle of a divorce is stuck in the middle of a terrible situation. The child will likely feel that to like you is to betray the other parent. They may feel they have no choice but to hate you. Unfortunately, media such as children’s fairy tales only support this assumption.
You are not the child’s parent. Any attempt that you make to parent the child will be regarded as an attack upon the missing parent. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying let the child get away with everything. Simply, do not attempt to replace the missing parent. You can set boundaries, rules and limitations (with the permission of your significant other) but there is a separation between yourself and the child. Think of your position as being similar to a teacher or a coach. You need to build a relationship with the child instead of assuming one exists. I became extremely close with many of my step-parents as a child. The ones who became my friends and confidants never attempted to parent me.
You Can't Buy Love
Many step-parents attempt to negotiate with children via gifts of toys, games etc. It doesn’t work. Children know a bribe when they see one. They will take your gifts, but they won’t trust you and they probably won’t listen to you either. They may also develop a severe case of the “I wants” whenever you are in their vacinity. Don’t start the process because it is a head-ache to try to stop it.
Children in the middle of a divorce or separation often feel like they have no voice. They don’t want this to happen but nothing they say or do can stop it. Talk with you step-children. Not necessarily about what’s happening but about books, interests, tv shows, or cultural events. Talk to them as you would talk to an adult. Truly listen to what they tell you and respond accordingly. Children give respect where they are given respect. Be someone they can talk to and be heard.
Never Insult the Other Parent
Step-parents often end up embroiled in the arguments surrounding the divorce. They often become angry with their significant other’s ex for their behaviour toward their loved one. Despite your anger and frustration, never ever ever insult the other parent in front of your step-children. It destroys any trust they may feel toward you. It makes them feel guilty for liking you. Anything you say, they will probably tell their parent because he or she is still their mother or father. Think of how you would react if someone insulted your parents and act accordingly.
Step-parents as Step-Children
To the step-parents, are you also a step-child?
As I said at the beginning of this post, being a step-parent is hard work. If you follow the above suggestions, you will find your way is a little bit easier. Try to remember that these children are hurting. Even if the parents have been separated for years and you are not the first significant other, these children are hurting. They may have developed relationships with the previous significant others and miss them on top of missing their parent. Just be a friend, if they will let you, and remember if you love the parent, the child is part of the package.