Real Life Step Parenting Advice
I will be the first one to tell you that most children do not want a stepparent. I will also tell you that it can be hard being a step parent. Real life step parenting is not like the movies at all. It's not like a T.V show where everyone always lives happily ever after. Some of you may disagree with me and if you do, then awesome! That means that not everyone out there has had a difficult time adjusting to this big lifestyle change and that is honestly wonderful news. But, there are families out there that struggle everyday. My mother struggled everyday. I became a stepchild when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My mother struggled everyday trying to keep the peace in our home between my stepfather and I. I also struggle every once in a while trying to keep the peace in my home as well.
I have been on both sides of this step parenting equation; I have been the stepchild and I am a stepmother. I have insight into both minds. I will share with you my "secrets" if you will.
Before jumping head first into this new and life changing experience, you must make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page. In order for your new family to run smoothly (most of the time) you and your husband/wife must be on the same page regarding discipline, rules, expectations etc.. If you and your spouse are on different pages, then you and your spouse will Not make it. If you are not on the same page regarding these issues that come up then this is going to leave both of you tired and frustrated and it will make your marriage and home unstable and unhappy. I know this because my mother and step father were on completely different pages in regards to parenting me. Their relationship ultimately ended because of their differences in parenting styles and their lack of compromise. I know that sometimes having this conversation with your husband/wife can be awkward and maybe even uncomfortable, but please do it. You will thank yourself later for taking the time to figure out a parenting style that suits both of you. Compromise goes a long way.
Dealing with jealousy.
Many children experience jealousy towards their step parent. I know I did and I know my stepdaughter did as well. I remember I would get so irritated and jealous when my step father would show my mother any type of affection. It would upset me so much that it made my stomach hurt. I'm not exactly sure why children feel this way, but I believe it's because they're used to having their mother or father all to themselves and it can be hard to adjust when a parents affection must be shared. I remember when my step daughter had issues with jealousy. She was about 3 years old and when my husband(boyfriend at the time) would hold my hand, she would try to get in the middle of us. I know it can be irritating when you have a little person trying to pry themselves between you and your spouse, but you should try to remember that this child isn't used to sharing their parents affection. I can also assure you that most of the time this behavior subsides over time. I eventually got used to my step father and him showing my mother affection became the norm to me, as it has with my step daughter. I have a couple of tips that I used that can help you and your step child deal with jealousy;
When my step daughter would try to get between my spouse and I, I would let her(only a couple of times in the beginning). It lets the child know that you're not trying to exclude them and that their parent still loves them. But, as time goes on and the child gets older, the prying should subside. If it does not, then I would suggest you and their parent speaking with them about how you're in this family too and that you're not going anywhere. Their parent should also explain that trying to get between you and their parent is rude and and rude behavior will not be tolerated. Of course, this method only works when the parent knows and realises what is going on. If your spouse does not see this as rude then you and your spouse must have a sit down and talk about it. I would suggest allowing the child to get in between you and spouse three times at the most and after that, I would put a stop to it. I was lucky enough that my husband saw what my step daughter was doing and he put a stop to it before I had to say anything. Having an understanding partner is always very helpful.
Choose your role carefully.
Some step parents have no idea what their role is. In the beginning, I had Zero experience with children and I had no idea what my role was supposed to be. Am I supposed to be a second mother? Just another one of Daddy's friends? More like an Aunt? I decided very early on that I was going to be none of those. I found my place and am happy with what I have chosen. I have chosen to be a Positive Female Role model for my step daughter. I am not her mother, nor have I ever tried to be. Step children already have two parents and no matter how bad one of those parents are, they know they have two real parents. Period. They Do Not Want a replacement. This does not make you any less important! I know this because as I said, I had a step father, I know what it is like. I know this is hard, but I would suggest trying not to compete with the biological parent. The children will see this and their Bio-parent will always win. I have not replaced my step daughters mother, but I have taken over this role. Not intentionally, but it is out of my control.So, due to the circumstances, I have taken over the role. I can not replace her mother, but I will continue to provide for her, feed her and be someone that she can talk to if she ever needs me and I will continue to set a good example for her and my own children. I have also been in the situation where we only saw my step daughter every other weekend. When this was the case, I was still just a role model. I listened if she ever needed me. I was my husbands helper when he needed any help parenting her. I would not suggest being a big sister or just a friend because a child may lose respect for you and begin to treat you as a peer instead of a respected adult with authority. Like I said, choose your role carefully.
Dealing with your jealousy.
When my husband and I first started dating, I would try to stay away during the weekends he had his daughter. Being around during their time together made me feel like a third wheel or an outsider. I also felt a little jealous. It was almost the same feeling I had as a child towards my step father. After talking with other step mothers out there, I have realized that this feeling is completely normal and it happens much more than anyone talks about. I didn't like sharing my husband and I was conflicted. I knew it was wrong for me to feel irritated that his three year old daughter needed more time and attention. I knew how much she enjoyed spending time with her daddy, who at this point, only saw his daughter every other weekend. As time went by, I got used to her and she got used to me. I learned that the love he had for his daughter was obviously much different than the love he had for me. I also learned that he was struggling at the same time; Trying to keep both of us happy was difficult. It takes time and patience to adjust.
Who should Discipline.
Many step parents have this question and I have found the answer that works for me. My husband has always told my step daughter this: "You don't have to like [your step mom,] but you will be polite and respectful." Since I am the one that is home with our children during the day, I am usually the one that has to discipline when the time comes. I am very fortunate that my step daughter is a great kid who doesn't need much of it and she rarely, if ever, gets into trouble. I usually use a stern voice and time outs for our children. I have never spanked my step daughter and neither has my husband. There has been no need for it. I would strongly recommend that a step parent Not use any corporal punishment for their step children. I strongly believe that this should be left up to biological parents. When I am with our children during the day, I am the adult and they know this. I will ask my step daughter to do something and she usually does. There are occasions when I have to ask more than once, but only because it's something she has forgotten about or is seriously trying to avoid. I have had to put my step daughter in time out and when my husband got home, he spoke with her in her room. If a problem or argument comes up between our children, then I intervene. I will ask all of them what's going on and I will ask them to stop doing whatever is causing the problem. If the problem is not resolved, I remove the one that is causing the problem and if needed, there will be a time out in a corner or in their room. If something very serious comes up, I address the problem right then and there, handle it accordingly and speak with my husband about it when he gets home. Usually, if it is something major, he will feel the need to pull my step daughter into her room and speak with her about the problem or behavior. As long as you choose your role carefully from the beginning, discipline shouldn't become a huge issue.
The dreaded Ex. The all knowing biological parent.
Ah, the Ex wife, Ex husband, Ex girlfriend or the Ex boyfriend. How do you handle them? Do you handle them at all? Should you be formally introduced? Should you pretend like they don't exist? So many questions.....
I will start off by saying that I Do Not interact or speak to my step daughters mother and I intend to keep it this way. However, there are people out there who have to interact with their spouses' ex.
I was never formally introduced to my husbands ex and this is perfectly fine by me. There are some people out there who feel the need they must be introduced, they must interact etc etc. I don't. I am talking more about the unstable, violent, hostile, mentally ill, or just very jealous or difficult ex. I don't have experience dealing with a stable or normal ex, so I can't give advice on that area. However, I do have advice on dealing with a crazy jealous ex and a mentally unstable and violent ex. I don't. And what I mean by that is I don't deal with her, I don't really acknowledge her either. I don't have to and I have not allowed myself to be put in the position where I have to deal with her. I have been in her presence at my step daughters sporting events and at school events though. She sits in one area and my husband and I sit in another. During visitation drop offs and pick ups, usually my step daughter gets out of one car and hops into another. Most of the time neither parent get out of the car, unless the ex has informtion. When something has to be shared, usually they roll down their windows and exchange info that way. During a sporting event and the ex feels she has something important to tell my husband, I keep my distance. I don't need to be included in their conversation and he will definitely tell me what was said later anyway. So, do I handle her? The short answer is No, I do not. I have chosen not to and I will do everything in my power to keep it that way. I married my husband, not his ex. But, as I said before, if you must interact with your spouses ex, I would try to keep it business like. There should be no arguing, no hostility and no disrespect. If something like this comes up, I would suggest finding an alternative because the children should not be subjected to their biological parent arguings.
Real life step parenting can be hard, but it should not discourage you. As long as you and your spouse have clear ground rules and open communication, then your home should run much more smoothly. You must find a happy medium in your step parenting and when you do, you will find you're a happier person.
© 2012 Dannell