Step-Parenting Solutions

A couple of years ago Brendan came in to see me following the untimely death of his wife.  More recently he paid me a visit all aglow; he had met the “woman of his dreams”.  I was delighted for Brendan, who hadn’t believed he could find a new partner. Laura, also divorced, had two kids, 8 and 10 from her previous marriage.  Brendan hadn’t yet met Laura’s kids but was sure that his love for Laura would carry him through any trials and tribulations with her kids.

Brendan didn’t realize that no matter how much in love with Laura he was, step-parenting can throw cold water on even the best of romantic relationships.  As we talked it became clear that he, like most folks, bought into some false assumptions about life as a step-parent.  Here are some of the other step-parenting misconceptions I commonly encounter:

  • Assume that you and your partner’s views about parenting and discipline will be in sync.

  • Take for granted that your partner will speak up if his or her kids are disrespectful to you.

  • Believe that your partner will know how to balance your needs with those of his or her children.

  • Believe that the kids will easily accept discipline from you.

In short, step-parenting can be one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever take on.  The good news is that given the following tips it can also be one of the most rewarding assignments you’ll ever accept:

  • Expect that your relationship with your partner’s children will be rocky from day one and then you’ll be prepared for the worst.  Kid’s naturally feel confused, resentful or both when one of their parents brings a new partner into the mix.

  • From day one be clear that you are an adult friend to your partner’s children, not a new parent.

  • In your words and actions indicate to your partner’s children that you respect the role their other parent plays in their lives.  No matter how much you may dislike your partner’s former spouse, keep it to yourself!

  • Discuss parenting styles with your partner.  Although these are not your children you should certainly have a say in how they behave, at least in your presence.

  • Especially early on, don’t try to discipline you partner’s children.  Rightfully they will get angry and remind you that you aren’t their parent.  Leave the parenting and discipline to your partner and work on developing an appropriate adult/child friendship with the children.

  • Recognize that your partner has a history with his or her children that must be honored.  There will be times when you feel like the “odd man out” but this is part of the price you pay for taking on a step-family.

  • If you feel as though you partner too often puts their kids’ needs ahead of your relationship with one another air your concerns.  Obviously there are times when kids’ needs must come first, e.g. an emergency, a doctor’s appointment, a sporting event or a school concert.  It’s all about balance but you should feel as though your partner also considers your needs and wants.

  • Openly discuss the role you and your partner would each like you to play in the children’s lives.  If you see this very differently but never discuss it, misunderstandings between you are inevitable.

In general, establish an open line of communication about your partner’s children from the start.  If you do this from a collaborative and problem-solving perspective rather than a judgmental one, step-parenting is a job you’ll cherish for a life-time.

In these uncertain times of the COVID-19 crisis, your mental health and well-being are more important than ever.

Many of our practitioners are happy to conduct video, FaceTime or telephone sessions in order to provide you with safe and effective continuity of care.

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