As you know, I am a stepparent to three children, who are adults now. I’m also a mother to two sons. Having been a divorced single mom for four years I can tell you, as the song goes, “it’s a better place since you came along.” I am grateful that my husband came along and embraced my young family …dog and all.
Thank goodness that all over the world, there are men and women willing to help raise their partners children as well as their own. Although being a stepparent is not an easy task, it is an honorable place in the family and most step-parents take their job seriously. Luckily, most are resilient and they are emotionally invested in their new families. Step-parents have a very important role. To start with, they support the biological parent, mentor and help all the children, and often help everyone financially. They take the time and energy in their busy lives to make the position of step-parent work for all the family. How can we ever thank step-parents enough for trying to be fair, patient, understanding, and willing to give of themselves even when things are not working out perfectly?
All I can say is “thank you, thank you step-parents for being so amazing!”
OK, so we have all heard those horror stories about mean and nasty step-parents. And some of them are true. But…. What about the millions of fantastic, loving, caring step-parents? Why should they take on the bad reputation of the rotten step-parents? Let’s be fair! Most stepchildren love their step-parents once they get to know them.
Let’s talk about the good guys.
In my practice of counseling step-parents, all of my clients were trying hard and they were willing to learn new methods of dealing with their issues in their families. They wanted their families to work!
Now, I would like to say that sometimes step-parents need a little extra help to be the best they can be. There are times that ALL parents need a little extra help with their parenting skills. Nowhere in school did we learn how to be a good parent, and many families of origin were not great role-models.
For example, it is hard for some step-dad’s not to try to take control and discipline all the children. And it is hard for step-mom’s not to try to be the mother figure and take everything that doesn’t work out personally. Of course, both of these issues can cause resentment and anger with step-children.
We need to accept that being a step-parent can be a little scary.
Once we, as step-parents, accept the boundaries and understand the situations that can cause trouble in a step-family, things can get easier in the household for everyone.
My book lists many important issues for a step-parent to consider. Here are some quick tips though:
Remember that you always have the biological parent to help you. The biological parent knows their children best. Always get their advice on how to understand a step-child. And remember, your stepchildren love both their biological parents. Show kindness to both.
1. Accept your step-children as they are… don’t try to change their personalities.
2. Be yourself. Know that you are enough just the way you are. Try not to be defensive.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself if everything doesn’t go the way you want. Change is hard for everyone.
4. Set a specific time for getting to know your stepchildren. Build a relationship around sharing interests, skills and talents.
5. Give children time to adjust to you and the new living situation. Keep your expectations realistic.
6. Expect some days to be “bumpy”. Don’t become discouraged.
7. Being a mentor, and not a parent figure, is usually the best way to deal with step-children. That is of course, unless the children a very young and safety issues are involved.
8. Remember that you are the adult and whatever negativity is flung your way by your step-children is done so by a child’s emotions. You will need to take a break and deal with the issues later if your step-child is older.
9. Get help from a professional if you feel you need it.
Ways a step-parent can help a step-child:
1. The ability to feel safe enough to tell you their feelings is huge for a step-child. They need to know you care about them and it will take time to trust you. Never trivialize their feelings.
2. Keep your conversations positive when you speak to or about your step-child.
3. Show them how to deal with their anger by being a good role-model yourself.
4. Show them how to problem solve by asking them for help dealing with difficult issues.
5. Eat well, exercise and get sleep yourself. This will show your step-children how important this is for a healthy lifestyle.
6. Watch for distress with your step-children. You can note if they seem sad, tired, worried, or tense. Discuss the best ways to help them with your partner.
7. Tread carefully with adult step-children. They have their own opinions and are living their lives the way they wish. Wait to be asked before you give advice.
What makes a good step-parent ….or parent for that matter?
(If you can check off most of these, most of the time, under most circumstances you will be a wonderful step-parent.)
.with a loving kindness about them.
. who likes to have fun.
. who has the ability to be patient.
. willing to learn new ways.
. who isn’t quick to judge.
. willing to listen and talk things out.
. who can forgive and not hold grudges.
. with a good sense of humor.
. willing to laugh at themselves.
. who can look “outside the box” for answers.
. who knows how to deal with their anger.
. open to new suggestions from their children.
. who doesn’t label or blame.
. who won’t give up and will try again.
. who will at least try to understand.
. who accepts that not all situations can be changed.
. who knows the importance of healthy living.
. who can say they are sorry when they make a mistake and then forgive themselves after.
I am sure there are many other important traits that I have not included. Being a good human being generally is not easy! We can try hard to do our best though and so I say to all step-parent “ the fact that you try hard to be the best step-parent you can be, is what counts.” Give yourself credit for a difficult job well done. Pat yourself on the back whenever you feel you are making a difference. Accept all compliments.
And, thank you!