In the world we live in one has about a 50/50 chance of being a step-parent if you are married and have had children. Somewhere down the road says the disturbing data you could be step-mom or step dad to a child or two. It really is a role that has to be carefully considered depending on the circumstances. For example in the event that a child’s biological parent is no longer living it can be a much different role than if they have their biological mom or dad in the picture.
For the purpose of this post I will just be speaking to those families who have all parents in the picture. I speak from experience by the way, not just professionally as I have had step-parents, and also am a step-parent. There are a few key areas to keep in mind as you live with and grow with your step-child. Some rules that need to be followed no matter what else goes on.
1- Never, ever try to replace the child’s biological parent. The most common mistake by far is the brand new step-father or mother who takes a look at the situation and decides how they will ” fix things ” and act as if you are the new sheriff in town. That usually a power trip that is incorporated by insecure people who are just looking to fill some void they have. I recall making statements to my step-daughter and her dad that I was not here to replace anyone. There are also certain things that a dad might say to his daughter that are simply better left to the biological dad. Maybe they are too personal or just reserved for the ” dad ” in daddy’s girl ( see below)
I was in support in any way I can of the father daughter relationship so long as it remained a safe one. In my case it became extremely unsafe and I was faced with a challenge.
The role of protector from the child’s parent can be tough. However it can be simple by just doing one thing. You must involve the child in the process to the extent their maturity level can support. I had many sit downs with my step-daughter asking her what she wanted from the options available. She was in control to some extent. You may be surprised at the ease with which it can all take place. They want to be safe too you know.
Another thing I highly recommend is leaving any major discipline issues to your spouse unless you have such a bond with that child that it does not matter who issues serious consequences. This is more to avoid what is known as ” splitting ” . Splitting is when a child realizes that they have some leverage to use against their step-parent when they go to visit the biological parent.
The ” you wont believe what he made be do for a punishment dad ” from a crying 14-year-old girl. Nothing will light a fire between two men than that. When the biological parent knows that his or her spouse was the primary person involved in any major behavioral issues, it can can bring a sense of common ground and is non-threatening. Some may disagree with my opinion on this, but it is the pragmatic way to go .
A good way to lose the respect of your child is to sit around and bash the child’s biological parent. This happens all too much, and again is usually a sign of insecurity on the part of the step-parent. Lose the trash talk and keep things objective.
Be cordial to the child’s mother or father if at all possible and especially in front of the child. I have a ton of memories of anxiety from when I was a little kid of 6-10 years old and I knew my step-father and biological father were going to cross paths. Weekend pickups and drop offs and pick ups were sometimes a bit of a free for all so I had much anxiety for a long time, and quite honestly I still think of those times and how they made me feel.
A great way to keep peace is to make sure and invite the biological parent to any events or award ceremonies at school that happen on your watch. Even if you cannot stand the site of each other, remember-there is no you in CHILD. It’s about them not you. Many times they wont be able to make it, but at least the child knows they were welcome.
Lastly for today, do not antagonize the other party when you do see them at events. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen either party try to issue a little payback for bad marriage memories in the most immature way. For example the dad is bringing a new date to the daughters middle school graduation and when mom gets wind of this she suddenly has the urge to wear some sleazy cocktail dress with everything hanging out. This just opens doors for problems in an already difficult situation. That is so high school. Keep things workable and try not to open any unnecessary doors for problems.
I think that is plenty to think about to get started, but no matter what the situation teach yourself to always put the child’s feelings and needs first.