Parenting is hard, but life in blended families brings even more problematic issues all family members must face. The greatest challenges of step parenting are usually related to the issue of disciplining kids. Step parents often describe their experience as “a lot of responsibilities but none of authority”. In the beginning, life in a blended family can seem idealistic; parents love the idea of new fresh beginning and kids love the sensation of having a family again. From there, if not careful and well educated about the traps of step parenting, things can go very bad very quickly.
Things you have to know about step parenting
Successful step parenting goes hand in hand with patience and skilled self control. Create your place in a blended family gradually. Allow step-kids to adjust, get to know you and decide on their own whether they like you or not. Remember – you can’t and shouldn’t force someone to like you.
Get involved step by step; start with playing (initiate fun games), shared activities like shopping, cooking, take the whole family on a pleasant vacation. Step-kids can be hostile; don’t force things but don’t give up either – just give them time to accept you. Stay civil and friendly, show respect and understanding and with time, children will realize you are not the enemy.
During a period of child hostility, avoid disciplining the child. Let the biological parent resolve any problem. Don’t take sides either; avoid judging and expressing opinions on who’s right and who’s wrong. Just be calm, kind and approachable.
The next step in effective step parenting is developing healthy communication. Don’t discipline – discuss. Developing healthy stepparent – stepchildren communication is essential for happiness in blended families. Encourage a child to tell you in his words what’s bothering him. If the child respects you and trusts you to communicate honestly with you about problems, it’s a good sign that the process of acceptance is going well.
Step parents are often in situations when they disagree with their partner and feel tempted to side with stepchildren. This can be very counterproductive. Avoid undermining your partner’s authority and discipline measures. Any disagreements between you and your partner should be discussed and resolved away from children. Siding with kids may improve your relationship with them, but this is just in the short term and will definitely create serious problems in the long run. Without mutual support among partners, step parenting can be a very traumatic experience for all family members.
Consistency, in terms of having the same rules both for biological and stepchildren is the most important part of successful step parenting. Both biological and step-kids are vulnerable; they both feel they have “rivals” in the fight for a parent’s love and attention. They will often recognize signs of favoritism even where there aren’t any. You have to be extra careful in setting rules and boundaries, giving awards and praises, spending time talking, playing, helping with homework etc. – you need to show the same rules apply for all family members.
Be aware that the step parenting experience and relationship between step parents and step kids will change over time. Trust and respect takes time, but if you remain calm, kind and patient, stepchildren will develop a strong bond with you. Effective step parenting is not an easy task, but earning respect from children and enjoying love and support of a well balanced and happy family is a very rewarding experience.