It has been estimated that more children today live in step families than they do in a traditional nuclear family where both the biological mother and father are present. Also, since more mothers retain custody of their children than fathers, these step families usually take the form of a biological mother and a stepfather.
There are several challenges that step families face from financial to the living arrangements as well as how to deal with feelings one has about the former family unit. Below are several things that step parents should and shouldn’t do in order to make their new family work.
Get on the same Page: Since the children are now dealing with three parents, their biological parents as well as you the new stepparent, it is important that you all get together and discuss the important aspects of the child’s life. You should all discuss what you consider as acceptable behavior, what punishments should be as well as their allowance, bedtime and how you all feel about homework. Failure to do so will lead to confusion for the children. This advice is mostly for when you become a stepparent when the children are young. With older children it is hard for the stepparent to discipline without the biological parent getting upset.
Realize there will be new dynamics: It is important to realize that a step family, because of its very structure, will have a different dynamic than the nuclear family. Pay attention to these new dynamics and don’t try to fit the interactions into some preconceived notion of what it should be like.
Don’t be a super parent: Many stepparents, in an effort to fit in, expect an instantaneous relationship between them and the children and will often times try too hard. Don’t try to buy your step kids love or praise by buying them gifts, treating them with kid gloves, or by promising them special compensation for this. The kids will be very wise to this and it will only backfire.
Don’t overstep your bounds: In an attempt to gain the respect of the stepchildren many stepparents place too harsh of a punishment on their stepchildren. This too will most likely backfire and cause resentment from them. It is a good idea to wait a year after you become a stepparent to do any punishing. By then the kids should like and respect you and will be more likely to listen to any punishment you hand out.
Encourage them: It is important to always encourage children; but it is even more important in a stepfamily, if the child so wishes, to encourage them to stay in touch with their biological parent that is no longer a part of the family unit. When you do this you are sending a message to the child that there is no competition between the parents, but rather, that you want the child to be happy.
Don’t set your expectations too high: This usually happens when the stepparent has children of their own. These parents often times expect to be able to go in and automatically have the same relationship they have with their own children. This is an unreasonable expectation. Remember it took you awhile to reach this level with your own children. It will take time with the stepchildren also.
Plan Activities with your Stepchild: You need to show the stepchild that you care about them. There are many ways of doing this but one of the most important ways of doing it is to spend time with them doing activities. This can be as simple as a walk to taking them out to a movie and anything that falls in-between. The most important thing to do is spend the time with them so you can get to know each other better.
Be Prepared: You may hear, when you try to correct the child or ask them to do something, that you aren’t their real parent. This is common and a sign that the child is upset with the change. Don’t take it personally.
Have Family Meetings: In these meetings ask the kids how they feel. Try to illicit both positive and negative responses and ask the kids for ideas as to how you might make things better. You will be surprised what they come up with.
Step parenting can be a challenge. Don’t go into it with your head buried in the sand and you will do just fine.