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Tips for Effective Harmious Step-Parenting

Updated on August 2, 2013

I think step-parents, especially step-mothers, have gotten a bad rap. I know first hand how difficult it is to have a step-parent as well as being a step-parent. Let me start by explaining my situation.

I met my husband when I was about twenty-three and he was almost ten years older than me. There was obvious chemistry between us considering we had similar goals for our lives and our personalities clicked. There were also some obstacles we knew would have to overcome and some special challenges that I would have to face. I was getting involved with a soldier who had children from his past relationship. On our wedding day, I became not only a wife, but also a step-mother.

Now I will always be the first to say I am very lucky to have such wonderful step-children. It isn’t always easy to be a step-parent. You have to walk a delicate tight-rope, balancing what you know is best for the child and acknowledging that you are not their parent, because the child won’t forget the latter.

I have been on both sides of the equation. I had unique insight on how the kids want to be treated and I made sure to always consider how I was treated as a kid. Here are a few tips I learned to utilize and I think would benefit new step-parents who might feel a little lost in the time of transition.

Respect is Key

This one is important, especially for older kids. When my husband and I married, I was twenty-six and his oldest daughter was seventeen! (Yes, he started young.) His daughter lived in Texas with his first wife and his son, who was fourteen at the time, lived with us. One thing I always told my stepson was that if he showed me respect, I would show him respect. I tried not to talk down to him, treat him badly or make him feel unimportant. My husband makes his children a very high priority in his life and I knew from the beginning that if our relationship was going to be successful, they would be just as important to me.

Of course, every situation is different. Every child is different. Make sure you are getting to know the child for who they are, not what you think they should be. Just because you feel children should behave a certain way doesn’t mean that was how the child was raised. As a step-parent you are balancing on a thin line. You want there to be harmony in the house, then you have to respect how the child was raised and values the child is getting from both the biological parents.

Kids Will Play One Against The Other, So Have a United Front

One of the most hurtful things a child can say to step-parent is “You’re not my mom/dad.” This can be a favorite for the simple fact that it gives them permission to treat you badly. This meanness can sometimes come from the feeling that you are trying to take the place of their biological parent. It is vital to talk to your spouse about what is expected of the child, what the rules of the house are and what punishments to should be given out. Again, respect the way the child was raised.

If you and your spouse are on the same page then there is no argument that you are beginning unfair. If the child does something wrong, talk to your spouse about a reasonable punishment and make sure the punishment is from both of you. My step-children know and understand that I love them as if they were my own, but I know I am not their mother. I will never ask them to call me mom (though I was very touched when my step-son did on his own after his high school graduation) and I will never try to interfere with their relationship with their real mother. Once the child understands you are not taking the place of someone they care about, you can start working on a relationship that will make your new family stronger.

Where Are You In The Family?

With so many marriages ending in divorce and people having children at younger ages, it is likely most families are blended. Where do YOU land in the equation?

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You Are Stuck With The Ex, So You Might As Well Be Nice

Regardless of how you feel about your spouses’ ex, they will be a part of your life from now on. There is really no need that you can’t be friendly. I’m not saying you have to be best friends with the ex. I’m not saying you have to make them a part of your daily life. I am simply saying try to be nice. Keep in mind, that child is watching how you behave toward one another and their attitude will be determined by the way you treat each other.

I honestly don’t see myself becoming best buddies with my husband’s ex, but at family gatherings I will always be polite and respectful. She is their mother and that can’t be changed if her and I don’t get along. We are adults and though I don’t like the way she treated my husband at the end of their relationship, for the sake of the children we both care so much about I will always try to be friendly.

This one requires both you and the ex put forth the effort to play nice. If the ex is one of those bitter, mean types who wants nothing more than to cause you problems, don’t let them get to you. Yes, that is often easier said than done. The most important point in this situation is to never, ever bad mouth the ex in front of the child. That would just put an unnecessary strain on both your relationship with the child and with your spouse. If you need to vent, do it privately with your spouse or with someone you can trust.

Believe it or not, it is very possible to have a happy and harmonious home with step-children. Taking the time to understand the child’s personality is very important as is making them feel that they are a special part of the relationship you have with your spouse. Plan fun things that you can bond over; have the child help plan things. Letting the child be an active part of your relationship with your spouse will be key to building the strong relationship that will last a lifetime.

Let me know what tips and techniques you have found successful in the space below.

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