STEP-PARENTING MORE DIFFICULT THAN PARENTING?

Last week we briefly looked at the negative, even demeaning usage of “step” when referring to stepparents, stepchildren, step-grandchildren (where do stepmother-in-laws fit in?!!). I received some encouraging responses, though many didn’t feel comfortable sharing publicly, respectful of family privacy. This week, we want to dig deeper and consider the inevitability of parenting as a (here we go again)…stepparent. CAN ANYBODY THINK OF A MORE ENDEARING PHRASE SO WE CAN OFFICIALLY VACATE THIS "STEP" THING???

Is it possible? Step parenting is more challenging than parenting? Since over two-thirds of you is the subject matter, and the other third is curious, here’s what you’ll find:

It’s ok if you’ve never been a stepparent before.The child has probably never been a stepchild – you’ll both work it out!

Be patient - don’t set lofty expectations.With anything that’s important it takes time. Matter of fact, there’s no shortcut or substitution to the healing power and wisdom that comes with the passing of time.

You’re not the only one who didn’t ask for this.The child wants to be parented by their parent, not their stepparent. Understanding this will help you understand where they are and what you need to do.

Enjoy the relationship you DO have.A positive outlook will make ALL the difference to your child, the family and you personally. In the process of embracing what you HAVE, you’ll realize that you have more DO’S to celebrate than DON’TS to endure.

Children are usually more accepting and forgiving of a parent than a stepparent.Sorry, it’s just true. Expecting this will soften the impact. Don’t be discouraged when it happens. If you think about it, you’ll probably be able to identify with it personally at some level. Use whatever experiences you have to help you tolerate it.

Parents are usually more accepting and forgiving of a child than a stepparent.If you were thinking this as you were reading the last one, then you’re on the way! Make sure you’re aware of it when it starts to play out and be consistent and fair. Children and other family members can detect partiality (maybe because they expect it) easy enough. Being aware will help alleviate it.

A stepparent is often unsure what and when they should speak up.Walking on eggshells is a horrible existence. It’s no fun living in fear of constantly hurting someone’s feelings. Be true to your own values as time works this one out. This is another good reason to have ongoing discussion about the parenting plan with your partner. It’s not a competition but they are your team member.

The biological parent may be fueling a fire of discontentment between you and the child.Sometimes they do it out of jealously, ignorance or just plain spite. They didn’t ask for this either, so try to be patient and support them. Usually this dynamic changes and the emotions will soften. It’s a huge challenge. You’ll need ongoing patience and support from your partner. Consider professional input.

Establish a parenting alliance with your new spouse/partner and their ex.When the emotions of separation and/or divorce diminish (this could take a year or so), get on the same page with your spouse/partner and the ex. Make sure you send a message that you want to form an alliance with them and their child. Having a shared intention of the child’s wellbeing is powerful and empowering for all.

Don't overstep.This is a continuation of the last one. Since you’re collectively parenting, make sure you stay within your limits and consult everyone involved. This doesn’t have to feel like someone is looking over your shoulder. Including them will almost assure you don’t become an OVERSTEPPARENT.

Have family meetings.These work, I know. CAUTION: make sure you do this during good times. It seems that family meetings are often called when something’s wrong. DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE or family meetings will never work. How to do that? Schedule the meeting monthly, with a movie/party night theme. Meet while you eat (finger food) then have fun watching a movie or playing some games Multiplayer video games work but this is an excellent time to introduce the classic board games (Operation, Sorry, Candy Land, Life, Uno…if you have to, GOOGLE IT!).

Take responsibility but don’t take it personal.Meaning, own YOUR thoughts and YOUR actions but don’t crumble emotionally when you get hurt. Matter of fact; expect it (e.g. “You’re not my REAL mom/dad”). More often than not your child doesn’t mean to hurt you. They may just be speaking honestly (without a sophisticated filter) or [accidentally] warning you of boundaries. Don’t over-think this.

Plan activities with your stepchild.Since you can’t take the place of the biological parent (or the real mom/dad), carve out your own relationship with the child. Because kids like to play no matter what, you’ll find your own place with them and they with you. You’ll know when and where – they will tell you! Fastest way there? Plan activities that they are unfamiliar with (fishing, hiking, building something, cooking, something unknown to both of you)!

Hope on the horizon.If you talk to adults who have been raised by stepparents you’ll find they usually have nice, interesting, even sentimental things to say. Some of the most memorable, admirable life stories are about an unlikely person stepping up to lead the charge.

So, STEP UP and stepparent with excellence!

Dr. Jay Banks, educator, entertainer and author Facebooks, Tweets, YouTubes, and Googles.

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