Adjusting to a step parenting role was a process that required a lot of growth on my part. I’ve come by the answers to what works — and what doesn’t! — the hard way.
One thing I learned early on was that it didn’t work to be in charge of disciplining or correcting my stepson. I thought it was best for my husband to carry out consequences and discuss problems. Even though my stepson is usually receptive to my directions, I don’t want to assume a position where I’m the primary authority figure.
If I was in charge of disciplining my stepson, I believe my home would be ridden with anger and tension. Instead, by supporting my husband as the primary authority with my stepson, my relationship with him has had a winning chance to form and deepen through the years.
Here’s the deal: I see myself more as a “bonus coach” to my stepson than anything else. I think most of my work lies in reminding him of family rules and expectations. That has proven to be the most effective way to create a culture of accountability in our home, as James Lehman advocates. I’m not saying there aren’t times when I want to jump in and “take over”, so to speak, but I know I’d be overstepping my husband’s obligation to teach and guide. Those tasks go smoothly between the two of them because they’re built on that special parent-child connection.
Of course, each blended family is different; and there are many different variables that influence the situation. Speaking from my own experience, I think that one of the biggest challenges lies in the emotions involved in a blended family situation. (Feeling threatened is a prevalent one.) Emotions can get complicated and muddle up the clear and open communication that should be taking place. It can also be tempting to place all blame on the biological parent for what’s not working. Believe me, there is no virtue more valuable than tolerance when it comes to being a stepparent! It’s so important to hold the belief that your spouse is doing the best they can.
I think it’s good to remember that a blended family is still, at its core, a family. The simple truth is that blended families need a lot of what any other family requires to be healthy and happy. Here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years:
- Spend time together.
- Respect the feelings of other family members, as well as your own.
- Try your best to get on the same page with your spouse so that you can be a united front—don’t underestimate how powerful that is.
- Discuss in private with your spouse what the expectations for your kids will be and how it will be handled when the rules get broken.
- If something goes awry, don’t step in and assume control — let your spouse finish and follow up with your stepchild afterward.
Finally, don’t forget that you can’t make your stepchild like you, no matter how much you might want them to do so. I know that it can be tough not to take that personally sometimes. I like to remember (and strongly believe in) this statement by James Lehman: “If you carry yourself with respect, kids will find things to like about you. This is because kids want to like people who they respect.”
I truly believe if you carry yourself with respect, your stepchild will eventually respond.
Do you have any questions about blended families, or advice you’d like to share with other stepparents? Please share your comments here!