If you are a step-parent, congratulations!
You are one hell of a person!
You have taken on this role nothing could have prepared you for when – tadaaa! – you were presented with a little family in a box; an instant family.
Becoming a step-parent comes with a range of challenges in the form of unknown territory paved with a few roadblocks. But don’t fret! As the saying goes
“Behind a lot of great kids is a step-parent that stepped up, stepped in and gave a shit.”
You have chosen to step up as a loving, caring role model in a child’s life. And because you are so awesome, I have put together some thoughts and ideas to help you as you embark on your journey to step-parenting.
I am writing from the point of view of a child that was raised by a step-parent, from the angle of watching my husband in his role as step-father to my eldest son as well as from the point of view of the biological parent watching her son being raised by a step-father. Having experienced those three angles, here is how to avoid the roadblocks and deal with them when you have to.
Know your role. There maybe disparities between your expectations, those of your partner and those of your step-child. Try and get an understanding of what those are. This may take time. Always assume the role of a friend as a start position and take it from there. First and foremost is gaining the child’s trust and respect. The child needs a friend, not a substitute parent. They need someone they can trust. And that can be you. Loving your step-child like your own may or may not happen. And that’s perfectly ok. Loving the child is not requirement for a happy, successful step-parent relationship. Acting in loving ways, showing kindness and respect on the other hand is.
Expectations vs. reality. Everyone comes with their own ideas of what things should be like and those ideas may not always be compatible. The gap between expectations and reality can cause discontent in the relationship. Let it go. [Insert Frozen song here]. The family dynamic won’t immediately be perfect. The relationships will need time to grow. It will take trust and acceptance. Letting go may not be easy initially, but will make room for accepting and respecting of the reality.
Storms make trees take deeper roots or something like that. So you hit a bump in the road. Little drawbacks are part of the evolution of the growing relationship. See them as an opportunity to learn and grow. They are a sign of progression rather than regression. You want to do everything right, be loved and accepted. You may feel like an outsider at times, you may feel inadequate, jealous and resentful, but don’t lose sight of the end goal. You are after all dealing with a child who is always missing one parent and also managing their thoughts and emotions in this complex parenting constellation. Show some consideration and empathy.
Between a rock and a hard place. You can expect that the child will worry that accepting you might be perceived as a form of disloyalty to their biological parent. Accepting you and perhaps even loving you, might present them with a conflict. It’s not personal. It’s political. Never question their loyalty to their biological parent or expect the same loyalty. Makes sense, right? Focus on being patient, building trust and investing all you can into the relationship. They will realize that it is ok to like you and care about you without that taking away from the love they have for the absent parent. At the end of the day, this isn’t a popularity contest. They will love you for who you are.
Use crosswalks – no jaywalking. Just don’t be that guy. Don’t make it your main mission to discipline the child. You have entered unknown territory, remember. Your relationship is fragile. Become the authoritarian, the stickler, the nagger, the giver-outer and you might quickly lose your footing. There is a fine line between taking on the parenting role without trying to be the parent. Disciplining the child requires trust, first and foremost. You can become an active part in the child’s life without overstepping certain boundaries.
Realize that the relationship is one of a kind. It is unique and presents so many opportunities to you to create something special. You are the next most important person in this child’s life. Work on it. You are you. You will do things and know things that the biological parent doesn’t know or do. You will have your own little dynamic that is special and unique to you two. Appreciate the small things: every little gesture, every sign of affection, every caring word. Make sure you don’t overlook them.
Perhaps you aren’t going to be perfect. Perhaps the relationship isn’t going to be perfect. Take it slow, and learn how to navigate the ‘step’ road together. Like a parent, care about the child, teach it, encourage it, and nurture it. Ask yourself “Does it feel loved? Understood? Valued? Appreciated?” If you can answer those with yes, you will be just fine!
You are winning and you are failing. This process is beautiful, messy and hard.
Enjoy riding the waves of (step)parenting
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