Avoiding the Pitfalls of Step Parenting
Chapter 1 - Are Your Children Prepared?
You’re a single parent that has finally met your soulmate. They’re responsible, caring, devoted . . . and they have kids. Your kids get along with their kids surprisingly well. After several months of getting to know each other, and feeling comfortable that all parties involved are content with the situation, the question is popped, the answer is yes . . . and then reality sets in.
This is a true story – my true story, which I am writing in an attempt to help others avoid the pitfalls that our family learned very hard lessons from. This story will be written in a series of posts, because there is way too much to include in just one, without it become a novel!
First of all, just because your kids get along during the “getting to know each other” period, does not guarantee a life-long friendship thereafter. Kids will naturally find common ground when meeting new friends. Our boys were 12 and 10 when they met, which was too young to think beyond the present moment of having a new friend with new toys. That excitement, which actually lasted nearly a year, was misconstrued as an indication of how our lives would be in the future. And so, we took the next step – we all moved in together.
Let me start by saying that nearly 6 years have passed since our first date, and nearly 5 years since the proposal, but my fiancé and I have never gotten married because, as it turned out, adding a wedding to the mix of the chaotic episodes that followed, was simply not a good idea – not yet anyway.
So, let’s step back a bit and delve into the details of how we got to where we are. I met my fiancé online. Yes, I admit it. I was a professional woman and a single mom, with no desire what-so-ever to hit the bar scene in order to meet someone. But, that is an entirely different story, which will follow in another post – I promise!
To make a long story short, we chatted for weeks and took things slowly, with our kids always in our thoughts. We had to be certain that there was really something there before we took steps into an actual relationship. Ultimately, the courting period lasted a couple of months before we introduced our kids to each other. And this is where the real story begins.
Our boys were in heaven! They were together whenever possible, and before long, his son was spending the weekends. He didn’t want to go home! Soon after that, dad started spending the weekend too, and at the end of the school year, they moved in. That was June . . . by December the boys hated each other. Yep! Within 6 months, our bliss had turned to disaster.
Once we were all living together, the reality of no longer being the only child set in for both the boys. His son didn’t appreciate sharing his dad, and my son didn’t appreciate sharing me.
The first step toward successfully bringing two families together is to prepare your kids before you bring the families together.
Keep in mind that you are the adults and the decision-makers in the household. You cannot allow your kids to decide your relationships. You do not want them to have this power over you, unless you plan to be alone until your kids have moved out. If that’s your choice, okay. But make sure it’s your choice, not theirs.
If you have more than one child, I would start with the oldest, since they will likely become the first to rebel, especially if they are the man or woman of the house, a title that will be relinquished to the “intruding” step-parent. Get a feel for their opinion of the relationship. As their parent, you will certainly know if they are feigning approval, when they are really feeling resentment. If you sense their resistance, you must get to the bottom of its cause before moving forward.
Offer these assurances:
· You will always be accessible to them, as you have always been – and make sure you hold up your end of the deal. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of a new relationship, but you can’t forget to give your kids the attention they are used to receiving. Not providing it is a recipe for disaster.
· The step-parent will not be responsible for discipline. I can’t begin to express the importance of this one - a chapter unto itself, paramount to a successful outcome. I will expand on this in my next post.
· If they ever feel resentful of their step-parent, or step-siblings, they must bring their concerns to you immediately, which you will give the necessary attention, and provide a solution for with the step-parent at your side and in full agreement (explained further below).
· They will each have their own space. Whatever you have to do to accomplish this, it is important, trust me. Having their own room is ideal, but a corner of a room that no one else is allowed to touch will also work. The point is that they have their own personal space.
· Common areas will be respectfully shared. This usually relates to a shared bathroom, which can become a huge point of contention if you allow it to. If the bathroom must be shared, everyone using it is responsible for cleaning up after themselves to a degree that is acceptable to the parents. Don’t allow one of the kids to set the cleanliness bar, because no one will ever live up to their expectations. If it is found that someone isn’t pulling their weight in this area, then it is up to the parents to address the issue before it creates resentment.
· Disrespect will not be tolerated – in any way, shape or form – period.
Don’t give your kids the impression that the relationship won’t move forward if they object, but do allow them to be a part of the plan for bringing your families together. Get their list of concerns and address all of them before moving day. Keeping them involved, and allowing them some input will encourage them to work toward a good outcome.
As step-parents, how do you handle discipline in your household?
Above all else, you and your spouse must create an undivided front on family issues. That doesn’t mean you will always agree on everything. Please! The sooner you accept the fact that there will be disagreements, the better you will be able to get through them. It’s the way you deal with the differences in opinion that will decide how this all turns out.
Parental discussions about finding common ground on a particular problem are to be dealt with privately. Disagreeing on family issues in front of your kids reveals the chinks in your armor. And, one little chink is all that’s needed to insert a wedge.
After you and your spouse have found an agreeable solution to the problem at hand, the resolution must be presented by both of you together, showing your children that you support each other on correcting the problem.
You’ll be surprised how quickly presenting this unified front will affect the degree of conflict in your household. Kids think they know everything, and they think you will never figure out their plan to create conflict between you and your spouse. By standing united, the desired result is never achieved, so they stop trying and move on to their next scheme.
Don’t get me wrong. Your kids aren’t consciously devising evil plans to split the two of you up. It isn’t about separating the two of you, as much as it is about creating a space for them. It is up to you to create that space before they feel the need to insert the wedge. Remember, kids live in the now and can’t imagine that things will get better over time. Parents need to be ten steps ahead of their children’s happiness, anticipating road blocks and removing the hurdles that will lead to their discontent.
Be sure to take time for yourselves. Find a quiet place to recharge - listen to relaxation music, do yoga, get a massage. This can be a very stressful journey. Finding ways to shake off the frustration will keep you from exploding when the stress level gets high.
I offer this advice, based on my experience as a step-parent. It hasn’t been easy, but it does get easier every day, so don’t lose hope. If you can apply some of this advice to your situation, I’m certain you will begin to see the difference. In the meantime, I will be working on the following upcoming chapters to this series. So keep checking back.
Upcoming Chapters on Step-Parenting:
· House Rules & Discipline – Who Is In Charge?
· Yours vs. Mine – No Playing Favorites
· Outside Influences – The Ex
· Overcompensation – You Can’t Buy Their Affection
· Be a Step-Parent, Not a Friend
· They’ll Learn To Appreciate You . . . Someday
Thanks for stopping by!