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What Role Should A Step-Parent Play?

The transition from significant other to spouse is definitely an exciting one. However, if you marry someone with children from a previous relationship, you open the door to some often great, though challenging moments. The key is recognizing that your spouse’s children are going to be a major part of your life - and vice versa.

There is no perfect, universal approach to how you should act in your stepfamily. Each family is different and has its own ways of determining who will play what role. It can be helpful to look at the expectations of each role in order to decide which one you will play.

No two step-parenting situations are the same, so it is important not to go in with any specific assumptions of how things work. It is no secret that being a stepparent has its own set of rules. Although each stepfamily situation is unique, we have provided a few guidelines that can help smooth the road ahead.

Here Are 4 Tips For Fulfilling Your Role As A Step-Parent:

1.Take It Slow

When creating a family with a step-parent, it is easy to believe that everyone will get along immediately. After all, you and your partner love each other, shouldn’t the children feel the same? This is not necessarily true. In many cases, love between the child and step-parent never arises - but mutual respect will take you a long way. This is why it is crucial to slowly ease into a relationship with your step-children. If you try to push for love or acceptance too quickly, children may recoil, and your efforts could end up backfiring.

Remember to give both your step-children and your spouse some time to adjust to your presence in the home. You may be excited to show your commitment to the family, but they might feel overwhelmed, as they are used to living in a single-parent household.

2.Respect The Role Of The Biological Parent

Step-parents are meant to be additional parents, not a replacement. In order to create a positive dynamic in your step-family, it is extremely important to respect the role of the children’s biological parents. Step-parents can have loving and meaningful relationships with their step-children, but should never at the expense of the biological parent. Children love their parents; remember to never undermine that love.

Respecting the role of the biological parents is in part done by recognizing your own role as a step-parent. The children’s biological parents are always the head of discipline, so you should not expect to immediately become an authority figure to your spouse’s children. Trying to get involved in discipline too soon is basically an invitation for children to say, You’re not my mom/dad! Or, You can’t tell me what to do! Think of yourself as an aunt or uncle to the children - you are a respected adult, but you are not directly involved in the parenting process.

This also means never intervening in the co-parenting relationship. You are the adult responsible for the children when their parents are not around, but not involved in decisions regarding discipline, education, medical concerns, etc.

If differences arise between you and your spouse when it comes to caring for the children, then it may be best to seek a neutral party, like a co-parenting coach, who can help establish healthy boundaries within the home.

3.Have Realistic Expectations

Unrealistic expectations are a major cause of disappointment. What started with good intentions can lead to resentment if expectations are too high. Perhaps you have children of your own and hope everyone gets along immediately. Or, maybe this is your first experience with children and you have certain ideas for how they should behave. In any case, understand that the only person you have control over is yourself. Step-parents who are too controlling are a major source of conflict within the family. This is why it is important to respect the children’s space and let your relationship with them develop over time.

You may experience some initial pushback or hostility from your step-children. This could mean they likely feel threatened by your presence, or perhaps they feel that you are replacing their biological parent. Negative feelings or acting out is normal for children of divorce. As a step-parent, staying calm and kind in the face of outburst is your best asset. Try not to take the hurtful things your step-children say personally. If conflict arises between you and your step-children, try using discovery questions to validate their feelings and diffuse the situation.

  • Can you tell me more about what’s bothering you?

  • Can you help me understand what is making you upset?

  • What can I do to ease your frustration?

  • How can I support you right now?

4. Set And Maintain Healthy Boundaries

A common mistake is assuming that the step-family will function the same as a biological family. However, your step-family will have its own dynamics and behaviors. This is why it is important to establish brand new boundaries and ground rules for your step-family. If you change the existing routines between households, the children may end up confused, which will affect how they respond to you.

An important part of establishing boundaries is making sure your step-children’s voices are heard. This means respecting their privacy, validating their feelings, and letting them spend one-on-one time with their biological parents. Let them know that you respect them, and in time you will receive the same respect back.

It takes a great deal of patience, time, and understanding to have a harmonious step-family. Just as you did with your spouse, make a commitment to your step-children, accept that there will be complications from time to time, and do not be afraid to ask for help.


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