“My mommy doesn’t like you.” -Age 4-5
“Daddy why did you leave us, take all our money, and go live with her!?” -Age 6 ½
Welcome to stepparenting! I did not make those quotes up. Honest! I hear variations of the same theme on a regular basis, all year long. The names change, the ages vary, but essentially the message is still the same. This is clearly not a welcoming message for the new stepparent.
Being a stepparent is a complex and challenging role. Children do not choose divorce or remarriage for their parents and they are not obligated to instantly love you. Relationships take time to build, and like any other intimate relationship it will take lots of work, lots of love, and lots of patience to earn your stripes.
The first step in building a successful blended family must be that the bioparent and the stepparent need to be in agreement about what the stepparent’s role is – and what it is not. The stepparent never replaces the bioparent and this will take some hard discussions and clarifications between the adults. For example, unless the children are very young, the stepparent is not the disciplinarian. They can enforce house rules, but they should not inflict their own parenting style on their new stepchildren.
To begin a relationship with your new stepchildren, your first job is to be the ACTIVE LISTENER. Get to know who your spouse’s children are – what they like, what they don’t like, their strengths, their weaknesses. Discuss this with your spouse and use this as a basis for creating time together. Remember that as a stepparent, you do not need to be the eternal entertainer. Children will often want to be with their bioparent by themselves.
There are no hard or fast rules for learning how to be a stepparent. But the intention to have a harmonious and loving family have to be the driving forces. Keep an open and honest dialogue with your spouse. If you keep that in mind you will be able to begin this challenging journey with flexibility and lack of judgment.