Stepmothers (and Stepfathers too)
Copyright 1998 by Douglas Darnall, Ph.D.
If you decide to marry a parent with children, there are some things you have to accept as a reality. It is part of the baggage parents bring with them into the marriage. To begin with, children will want to spend time alone with their parent without your presence. Many times the parent will want to put their children's needs before yours. Standing the background is a biological mother or father. She or he could have very strong feelings about you that have nothing to do with you as a person or stepparent. The biological parent could be jealous of your time with the children, fear your discipline, hate their ex, and distrust your motives. However unfair or unjustified these problems appear, you and your spouse have to deal them while trying to not get the children caught
in the middle.
Child support is important. Stepparents should not in anyway interfere with visits and child support responsibilities. It must be remembered by all, that parents are more likely to pay child support if they have an on going active relationship with their children.
Here are some basic guidelines step-parents should follow:
- Stepparents must move slowly with the stepchildren. Remember most of the time the children didn't ask you to be there. You are intruding into their world, a place of familiarity and
- If you are having problems with the stepchildren, discuss these problems with your spouse privately, not within earshot of the children. Keep in mind that children are nosey and will listen through the
- Regardless of your feelings about your biological counter-part, don't make derogatory comments about the other parent to the children. This is alienating and damaging to the child and your relationship with the child. The child will usually want to defend the targeted parent but will avoid saying anything because that's easier than confronting you. Children live by a simple principle, went uncomfortable, avoid. Don't be fooled by their silence. You will probably not hear their thoughts. They will have opinions and feelings about what you say. You just won't
know what they are thinking.
- Your stepchildren still need time alone with their biological parent. Don't always feel like you have to be involved with what they are doing. Until the children know and accept you, don't be overly demonstrative with their parent. Kids watching the two of you cuddle and kiss can be embarrassing and "gross" (That's what the kids tell me)."
- A biological parent's feelings will be influenced by what the children say about you. Kids, like adults, are quicker to complain than say good things, especially if they believe their mother doesn't want to hear about what a wonderful person you are to them.
- Don't be overbearing when communicating with the biological parent. Be pleasant and maintain self-control over your feelings. If there are important issues to be discussed with the biological parent about the children, biological parents rather than you should have these conversations. Perhaps after a period of time and you develop a good relationship with the biological parent; you can become a more active participant. I have found that many problems with stepmother is when the stepmother become overbearing, tries to take control while the father passively
sits by and says nothing.
- Do not expect to just take over the management of the house and set the rules when you move into your new spouse's home. Rules and expectations about each family member's responsibilities must be discussed and negotiated. If a new stepparent moves in like a bulldozer and plans to rebuild the family structure and values, he or she is heading for big trouble with both the stepchildren and new spouse. Stepparents must move slowly and be sensitive to everyone's feelings.
- Children should not be expected to keep your secrets. Assume that what ever you do in your household, they will tell their biological parent. After all, what is it you do in your house that the world would care about?
- Your stepchildren come from a very different world than what you are familiar with. They were possibly exposed to different values. Don't go into this step parenting thing with the idea that you know best and you are going to remake the children into what you think is best. First of all, you don't have this right and secondly, you will be heading for disaster.
- Stepparents and new romantic partners can all get caught up in the problems between two warring parents. This creates a perfect breeding ground for alienation* because significant others frequently believe that they have to take a side.
Stepparents can be a tremendous source of support and love for their spouse and the stepchildren without getting caught up in these issues. What is best for children is when stepparents and biological parents treat each other with mutual respect and concern for the children. Parents who are able to keep parent/stepparent conflicts from the children will have a better overall adjustment to the divorce and new family. Patience is a must for the successful stepparent.
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