Sept. 16, 2015, marked National Step Family Day, a celebration of the unique challenges and triumphs of blended families.
Parenting isn’t always easy, but living as a stepparent can provide its own unique set of challenges. Stepparents often feel like outsiders, unsure of how they fit in within the more traditional family unit.
Here are some helpful tips for dealing with insecurity as a stepparent.
Don’t expect instant love
Stepparents are “instant parents” — in other words, they’re placed into a caretaker role almost immediately regardless of their experience with children. For this reason, stepparents might expect to receive “instant love.” Unfortunately, instant love between stepchildren and stepparents is an unrealistic expectation.
Rather than forcing an emotional connection, stepparents should establish small, realistic goals in the stepparent-stepchild relationship. Spend time together. Go on a walk or a bike ride. Toss a ball around. Don’t force anything. Eventually, the relationship between stepparents and stepchildren will grow organically.
Limit spousal affection in front of the children
Often, children feel displaced when parents spend time with new romantic partners. They might feel jealous, insecure or worried that the stepparent will replace them. They might also worry that the stepparent will try to replace the absent parent.
For this reason, it’s essential that both spouses limit the amount of affection they show each other when the children are present, especially early on in the relationship.
Talk with your partner
Communication is a vital component in all relationships. The stepparent and the biological parent should maintain an open channel of communication between them when it comes to finances, the future, and – yes – children. When stepparents feel insecure, they should communicate with their partner. The biological parent should do what he or she can to help define roles and expectations between the stepparent and the stepchildren.
Set up a designated time to talk through any parenting issues that may arise. Discuss these issues before the marriage.
Respect the stepchildren
Even though parents are in charge in the child-parent relationship, it’s essential that they treat the children with respect. This does not mean a lack of discipline or giving children an equal weight in financial decisions, but it does mean accepting their comfort level, not violating their privacy and letting them speak when they ask to be heard.
Every child is different – some may be shy and open up slowly, whereas others might be more willing to engage. Let each child move at his or her own pace. This is respect.
Know your role
Stepparents are just that – stepparents. They are not villains. They are not replacing the other parent, no matter how absent that parent might be. They are not the cause of everything that goes wrong in the stepchildren’s lives. As a stepparent, it’s important to be confident in your role. Don’t try to be something you’re not.
To learn more about the dynamics of blended families, look for more blogs in this series. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness or a behavioral issue, contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline any time at 866-846-5588 to speak with someone who would be glad to help.