Since 2010, I have been a stepmom. During the course of my relationship, my stepson has been a constant presence as my spouse has shared residential placement. My stepson is a fixture in the home every other day and on alternating weekends.
During the years, I have developed a loving and wonderful relationship with my stepson. But, it has not been without effort. Learning to stepparent is not easy. Being a stepparent requires patience, humility, and respect. But, it can be worth every learning curve and frustration placed before you. It has been for me. Thanks to my stepson, I have had the opportunity to have a hand in a child’s life.
If you are contemplating marrying into an already started family, consider it carefully as it may not be what you expect. Here are a few ideas that can help you as you navigate this new role.
First and most important, ask questions. Ask your potential spouse about the expectations they and the child’s other biological parent have of their child. Ask about the level of involvement they expect from you. Ask about the methodologies of discipline used and agreed upon for the child. In other words, ask before your act. You will not fail if you ask questions. It will ensure that you and your love set expectations and boundaries for your involvement with their child.
Once you have established the expectations and boundaries for your involvement in your stepchild’s life, the next thing you need to do is learn to be a parental figure.
Biological parents do not often think to read about parenting beyond “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” As a stepparent, you do not have the luxury of making mistakes because you will be scrutinized on a different level by everyone- your spouse, your spouse’s family, your stepchild’s other parent, that parent’s family, etc.
For that reason, I encourage you to learn about parenting by reading parenting books. A favorite book of mine on parenting is “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” This book, written by Wendy Mogel, is a no-nonsense approach to raising children to become adults that will not be annoying AF.
When you find a particularly good book that helps you improve your parenting skills, share it with your spouse and the child’s other parent. Open the door to communications about child rearing. Remember, the goal is to be the best parents you can be for the child you share.
Support the system
You have asked all of the necessary questions about how your new prospective family functions. You are ready to sign up to be a part of that system. The next steps are both complex and simple. Complex- figure out your place in that system. Simple- do what you can to support the system.
Well, simple is not so simple. Simple means helping to maintain the status quo for the child’s situation. Need an example?
Your love interest has a 50-50 shared parenting plan with their child’s other parent. They both live within the child’s school district and participate actively in the child’s life daily. If you are going to get involved with such a family, you do not get to come into the relationship one year in and ask your love to move with you to a different city for a career opportunity. That is not fair to that child and that child is the most important thing.
So, now that you have asked all the questions, read some parenting books and said I will or I do. The time has come to get to doing. Support the system help your partner where you can with their child in your life. And, take time to enjoy the new child in your life. A stepparent relationship can be incredibly rewarding. I know mine is.
Learn your place
You are now in the relationship. What is the most important thing you can do? Learn your place.
I am a dominant personality. I tend to have opinions. Lots of opinions. And… I am not afraid to share them. However, when it comes to stepchildren, I have learned that the best thing you can do is leave the parenting to the parents. Parents, after all, are the ones that must deal with the real-life consequences of their children’s behavior.
Along with that, I recommend that you push the same expectation on your spouse AKA the child’s legal parent. Your child’s legal parent needs to be the primary parent in the household. Do not let them leave all the parent-like work and responsibilities to you.
Child is hungry and wants a snack? Your spouse needs to address that situation. Child’s clothes is dirty? Your spouse needs to make sure the child has clean clothes for school the next day. If you need more help as to why this is important see the paragraph below entitled “Do not be a Doormat.”
Never speak ill of others
Throwing shade. This term refers to making snide comments to or about someone. This is something that is commonplace in our culture. But, this type of behavior has no place where your stepchild’s other parent is concerned.
Yes, you may be justified in your statements or comment. But, the hurt that you will cause your stepchild will not be worth the small, smug satisfaction you feel. Remember, children are connected to their parents by biology and emotional ties. A negative comment about your stepchild’s other parent can be taken by the child as an attack on their person. And you just do not want to do that. Your life and marriage will be better off if you show respect to those who ultimately make up your family.
Another reason to carefully contemplate what you say about your spouse’s ex is that children’s perceptions of life partners take shape from their perceptions of their parents. In other words, we become our parents and we marry people similar to our parents. Pointing out flaws in another parent is a surefire way to send your stepchild to seek out the same level of crazy as that other parent that you just don’t like.
Rather, be the positive influence. Be the one who tells your stepchild to love and respect ALL parental figures. Be the one who makes them feel like divorce is not tearing them apart but adding more love into their lives. And, yes, you should learn to say positive things about the other parent because at some point your stepchild will rant and throw shade at their other parent. At that moment, you can listen, support and even encourage to give their parent a little wiggle room. But, you cannot join in and start your list of why that person is a P.O.S.
Do not be a doormat
Now that you have signed on to be in a stepparent role, it can be easy or even tempting to want to do too much. You must resist this slippery slope.
Your partner, not you, should be the one primarily responsible for their child’s own rearing. You can help, of course. If you enjoy cooking, make meals with your stepchild in mind. If you like to shop, help your spouse shop for children’s clothing. But, you should not be expected to do everything for the child.
This should not be interpreted to suggest that you cannot contribute to the child’s needs. What this means is to be clear about boundaries in this regard. Remember that if the focus becomes the child and not your relationship, you do not want to end up in a position that you cannot leave the relationship because you are too invested in your stepchild. This recommendation is about self-preservation.
Do not distinguish
I learned one of the most important lessons in life in high school speech class… end with the most important point.
If you are contemplating becoming a stepparent, you must think carefully. The most important thing that you must do is ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you currently have children? Ask yourself, am I going to distinguish or show preferences between the children I currently and the stepchild coming into my life; or
- Do you want to have more children? Could I see myself treating a biological child differently than a stepchild ?
If the answer may in any way shape or form be yes, do yourself a favor- do not become a stepparent. Children do not deserve to be made to feel inferior. Better that you just walk away and spare that child those feelings of neglect and mistreatment.
Are you a stepparent? What other recommendations would you share about joining an already established family.
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.”