Step-Parenting: You Chose to Love Them
If you are single or divorced, you have probably been dating for a while...some are losers, some are interesting. Usually after several years of knowing that you want to wait for that right person, you find that perfect someone in your life that you have decided is the one to spend the rest of your life. Hopefully, your relationship has been good enough that you already know, and have met, those children from that previous marriage. You have several choices, depending on how deeply you love and are devoted to your intended. You embrace the new intended family or tuck tails and run.
To a single or otherwise childless person, the prospects of marrying into a ready-made family can be frightening. Lots of questions go through your mind:
- Will his/her children like me?
- Will his/her children resent me?
- Will his/her children look at me as an outsider or family?
- How can I gain their trust and respect?
- What can I do to solve those parenting problems that could cause a rift in my marriage?
And believe me....those are just a start to the things you will deal with in your career as a Step-parent. Don't be discouraged though. While those 50's and 60's family sitcoms of the perfect family weren't real, and nothing really happens that way, there are some sound practices that you and your intended can do to be successful.
It won't always be easy, but stay firm to your course. Take the good and the bad, but never give up. The institution of marriage is in danger of being placed on the endangered species list today and your efforts can help to make a change.
Success or Failure
Teenagers and older
The first thing to remember is that you really love and respect the person you have married. While it's really great if the children like you, you are not marrying them. Oftentimes, when teenagers or older are involved, there may be resentment of the parent re-marrying. Until they might realize that you didn't break their parents marriage apart, nor are you going to 'take the parent away from them', they've already had an emotional ride and you have a tough job.
The first thing you need to do is let the children know that you respect their position in the family and hope that everyone can contribute to the harmony. Let them know you value their opinions and never shut them out. Keep the door of communication completely open.
On the other hand.....NEVER let them drive that wedge between you and your spouse, and they will try, believe me. It's amazing how childish the older child will act when they think that 'if I break them up, my REAL parents will get together again'. It's o.k. if, for a while, they have this idea, but if it continues it will cause problems. And of course, it doesn't usually turn out as the child had expected, causing them even more distress. Try to remain calm, communicate with everyone. You and your spouse will need to communicate especially well during this time, realizing what's going on and that it is a phase that the child is experiencing. But, if it doesn't seem to be relaxing after a reasonable period, seek help through counselors. Many schools can assist if the child is still enrolled, or at least point you in the right direction.
But the time will come when you can look back and laugh a little. I can remember my step-daughter who came to live with us at 12 was having a really bad week with her Dad. He wasn't wrong, just applying more rules than her biological mother. Her mother had actually called us to come take her away due to being out of control. So, this particular day, she had skipped school and still rode the school bus...but not home. She had gone to a friends house and proceeded to smoke pot. Needless to say, she was in serious trouble when he located her! While this part was never humorous, the result was. The next day, she was still moping around the house and arguing with her Dad. I called from work and asked him if he wanted to bring her to the store and let her spend the day there away from him. He, and she, thought it was a great idea.
So, she comes and proceeds to sit in my office, whimpering. I finally approached and asked her exactly what she would have done in her Dad's shoes. She looked up at me, tears flowing and said "I just thought if I made things bad enough, Dad would go back to Mom and we could be happy again." I asked, "....what do you think should happen to me?" Her reply "I expect you to go too! You're part of the family now!" Things got better shortly thereafter.
Case in point! O.K. You can laugh now.
The younger child
Just as with the older children, there may be resentment. And, once again, you're not trying to REPLACE anyone. Basically, the same rules apply here as with the older child. You need to gain their trust and respect. Without either, there is no success.
First, become a friend....someone they can go to to talk (and they have allot to talk about), someone that will listen (and REALLY listen) and someone they can trust with their innermost feelings. Don't criticize their feelings, as children especially young children, already don't fully understand them and criticizing them will only close the door and destroy the trust. Let them talk things out and give them encouraging (and if needed) suggestions for correcting their feelings.
Next, become the parent. If you have been successful in obtaining their trust and respect, they will accept you as an authority. Hopefully, you and your spouse have discussed what disciplines are to be used in your family, and this discussion should carry over into the children as well. While these are not your children, if they are living in your home, you have a right to expect certain and appropriate behaviors. Just don't be tyrannical about rules, just expect them to be followed. Communication is the ultimate key!
Make ground rules! First, between you and your spouse, then be sure everyone else knows about them too! If children see the two of you in disagreement, it opens you for a wedge to be driven. Even if you disagree with your spouse, voice that disagreement in private, make corrections if necessary but do not argue in front of your children ESPECIALLY about disciplinary measures.
It is better if the biological parent can initiate a family meeting where these guidelines or rules can be discussed. And, ask for input from the children as well! This way, the children will know that their parent is in agreement. Both parents should have the right to discipline the children within these guidelines. A household where only one parent is the disciplinarian has serious problems, starting with lack of respect. Don't go there! Again, you're asking for trouble.
Your marriage made you a couple, a partnership. Keep it as that even in child-rearing.
The Happy Ending?
...and they lived happily ever after....
Wouldn't we all love that thought? Sorry but it is just the ending of a fairy tale. Do some families live happily ever after...sometimes perhaps...but only if they are telling the truth. It's sorta like those couples who say "we never argued a day in our life." Yeah, right!
Life has it's ups and downs. We either roll with the punches or let it destroy us.
Step-families can be happy, or let the problems destroy them. While my life as a step-parent hasn't always been 'happily ever after', there are times that I wouldn't have traded for all the tea in China. I now have grand-children and great-grand-children that I would never have had if I hadn't decided to love the children and become a step-parent.
If you make that decision, remember that YOU are the one who made it. Any of the life problems that occur really aren't anyone else's fault because YOU made the decision to love them. YOU choose them as YOUR family....you weren't forced into it.
Someone once said that "you life is what you make it" and while somewhat true, the Bible also says that "time and unforeseen circumstances befall us all". We can make decisions and changes in our lives, some may be good, others may be bad, but NEVER can we place that blame on others.
Cherish your family. Give them your love, support and understanding. Even when things go wrong in the family, hold your head high knowing you gave it your best and remember that YOU choose to love THEM.