Becoming a stepparent means accepting a new life and a new family. However, a stepfamily can be a fundamentally different structure with different relationships than a first-time family.
The most notable difference between a stepfamily and a first-time family is that in a stepfamily, the spouses don’t have an equal relationship to the children or in the parenting process. Therefore, it’s understandable that this can cause confusion and, possibly, dysfunction in a new family that’s trying to develop, as a result of certain life changes.
Let’s discuss the 5 ways that you can become a better stepparent and, eventually, adapt to and love your new family.
1. Don’t Introduce Too Many Changes
“It’s not okay to start with too many changes,” says Minnie Wise, a blogger at Writemyx and Next coursework. “Whether the changes come as a result of a divorce, a remarriage, new siblings, or a new home, you still have to be sensitive of the fact that children are experiencing these changes, before you attempt to establish rules for them. If children see you as trying to ‘fix’ things, then they’ll interpret it as trying to erase all evidence of their past life.”
Once children are settled into their new life (which can take months or years), then you can start setting boundaries for them.
2. Don’t Take the Place of the Parents
No stepparent should take the place of the other parent, regardless if this is a result of a divorce, a new marriage, etc. Your new spouse’s children are not technically yours. Therefore, you must respect the child’s need to love the other parent.
Plus, don’t ever demand that your stepchildren call you “Mom” or “Dad.” Chances are, they’re still adjusting to the changes. Instead, understand your role in the family. And, should a child decide on their own on what they want to call you, then respect their decision and demonstrate a quiet gratitude and a responsibility to live up to that name.
3. Acknowledge Rough Patches
No matter what, there are going to be rough patches along the way, as you develop a meaningful relationship with your stepchildren.
Although you might feel like an outsider at first, and may experience the following:
- Feelings of inadequacy
Just remember that that phase in your life won’t last long, as you transition. All you have to do is accept it, and let everything unfold. Try not to take anything personally. Instead, see this as something new, or a progression towards it at the very least.
4. Slowly Build a Relationship with your Stepchild
“As you create that relationship, take it slow. Don’t try to replicate the relationships that they have with their other parent. Everyone has their own qualities, wisdom and experiences; so, take that as your chance to give them something new, instead of forcing a cheap imitation on them.”
As you take this relationship slow, and eventually build their trust in you, you’ll be able to find new things to share with children that they’ve haven’t already shared with their other parents.
5. Encourage and Reward Good Behaviors
It is highly recommended that stepparents focus on encouraging desired behaviors, attitudes, and interactions in stepchildren, rather than allowing bad ones to flourish.
Although it’s the parent’s responsibility to discipline their children, you should still reinforce that parent’s rules, while letting that parent have more control than you.
Sometimes, bad behaviors can stem from the new changes made in the family, and children of divorce may not be comfortable sharing their feelings with anyone. That’s understandable. But still, try to find the good in these children, and compliment and reward them every time they do something good and responsible.
While all families—especially stepfamilies—differ from each other, the takeaway here is still universal. With changes in the family structures, there’s no need to struggle on your own.
Although times may be tough at first, they’ll soon get better, once children are more apt to see you as part of the family now. Once that relationship with your stepchildren is established, you and your new family can look after one another and overcome any challenges in the future.
P.S. To take it a step further, make sure you’re not making these mistakes…