Ode to Step Parents
Getting off to a shaky start
Most people imagine themselves meeting the perfect partner, falling in love and starting a new, beautiful and bright life together. It rarely occurs to anyone that their perfect mate may be somebody else's ex - yet it happens more and more today than ever before.
We are living in an unprecedented era, where more than one third of marriages before 2010 failed. This in turn means that a large number of divorcees with children suddenly entered the dating pool.
It's always difficult for a singleton to decide whether they want to take on dating a family as opposed to an individual; and comes with many extra challenges and responsibilities. Of course it also comes with lots more opportunity for joy and a good way to know your partner at a very deep level as commitment to parenting is a true reflection on ones character and moral standing.
Introducing Cruella De Ville
Divorce and new families aren't easy on either the children or the prospective new "parent". Both have grown up on stories like Cinderella and Snow White where hearts are hunted and gentle spirits tormented.
Children resent and fear the new partner before they've even been introduced and the prospective new parent is concerned on two fronts - will they like me and will they accept me or is this going to be the hardest battle of my life?
Already the preconceived notion has the two parties summing each other up with hackles raised and neither has made the time to get to know the other yet.
Step Parents Deserve a Medal
The only thing worse than going into battle is going into battle alone, against an unknown enemy, with no guidance.
Prospective step parents deserve a medal for even being willing to try take on this mammoth task. Most natural parents take time to adjust to parenting and even then make mistakes. New parents are given 9 months to prepare for the birth of their child and most find that daunting on some level.
Step parents are given the "sink or swim" option in parenting and very few have been trained to deal with the changes in responsibility and the shift in focus, that a normal parents accepts early on, from themselves to their children.
Step parents have the added pressure of having to satisfy their partners ideal of how they should handle parenting and may even be compared to the ex husband or wife on a regular basis.
In my opinion there simply aren't enough resources and support for step parents to help them cope with the massive task at hand and not nearly enough of them are recognized for the admirable job they do.
Yes there are lots of "bad" step-parents out there, but I'm fairly certain the number of good step parents is far higher and mostly overlooked.
I would hazard a guess that the angst felt in step families is based on insecurity and fear and could be resolved quite quickly with the right guidance and support.
Helpful Hints for Step Parents
- Remember that you are learning a new set of skills and will make mistakes from time to time, be kind to yourself
- Read some parenting books so that you aren't completely in the dark
- Watch some comedy family sitcoms for a lighter way to approach some serious situations and laugh them off on occasion. Not every little thing has to be a drama!
- Understand that the child / children that have come into your life are afraid and worried. They don't like change as much as you don't like change and have just lost the safety of the home and safety they once knew - give them time to adapt.
- They also happen to be much smaller than you and so are at your mercy. Use this knowledge and power wisely and share with them how amazing you are from day 1
- Take the time to get to know them as individuals, every child is unique and will respond to you in a different way.
- Make sure you let them know that you care about their mom / dad and would like to be their friend too
- Never use the "I'm not trying to replace your mum / dad" line, unless you are going to follow it with "I'm hoping you'd like to have two sets of parents to love and support you"
- Do not speak about the child to his or her parent in front of them as if they aren't in the room - there's no need to breed contempt. You wouldn't do that to a friend, family member or colleague so don't do it to a helpless child!
- Do not speak ill of the child's parent - either your spouse or the ex - ever. You are already an "intruder" in their eyes, don't make yourself the villain too. Children will accept you a whole lot quicker if they believe you are making their parent happy and are enriching their lives. If you are constantly running them down you are basically advertising that you do not belong there.
- Understand that you are the adult and are expected to set the tone for this relationship.
- Communicate with your partner - not ranting and raving about how bad their child is, but about how you feel and what solutions you'd like to offer.
- Be solution and action driven - there is always room for improvement, this may even be about how you mature and learn to be a better version of yourself!
From the Other Side of the Looking Glass
Many of us have now had the experience of being a stepchild - this has created a much stronger understanding of what it could be like to be a positive stepparent.
Growing up with step parents can make you acutely aware of how easy it is to feel neglected, cast aside or even victimized by a step parent and how easily this could have been avoided.
Current statistics indicate that divorce numbers are on the decrease which could be as a direct result of a generation who have grown up in a broken home and do not wish to perpetuate the problem.
Would you Consider Being a Step Parent?
Love for a Step Parent Beautifully Captured
How to be an Effective Step Parent
Resources for Step Parents
Books to Read
My Bonus Mom by Tami Butcher (for the children)
Smart Step Family by Ron L Deal
Wisdom on Step-Parenting by Diana Weiss-Wisdom
or follow this category link on Amazon for more:
How to successfully blend two families:
Guidance and Advice for Step Parents and Couples