Step parenting issues and tips for success

In Canada today, blended families involving second marriages and step parenting are a common reality.

Step parenting is a sensitive role and is often fraught with difficulties. From the time we are small children reading nursery stories, step parents are portrayed in a negative light. In particular, step mothers are often wicked and unfair in stories and this myth sometimes sticks with us as we grow up.

Although the myth of wicked step parents is not valid, it does point to the sensitive nature of the role and the period of adjustment that takes place when a step parent enters the family dynamic.

In many cases, children do not accept a new step parent - sometimes this individual is blamed for the separation of the biological parents or is simply not welcome regardless of circumstances or of the contribution he or she might be making to the family.

As a result, the relationship between step parent and children is often stormy and can be one of the greatest barriers to the new marriage relationship. Many times, the continued conflict causes great tension and eventual break up of the relationship.

Today I hope to give some tips that will help to make the adjustment a little smoother and lead to a successful step parenting situation.

First, it is important to understand that separation, divorce and eventual new relationships are difficult issues for children to understand and adapt to. Although they will eventually get over hurt emotions and adjust to a new situation, it takes time.

Often, children perceive things differently than adults and may also worry about loyalty issues concerning the other parent. Do not use your children as pawns in a power struggle or expect them to carry messages between two households. Respect the importance for them to have positive relationships with both biological parents as well as new step parents.

It is not wise to expect children to react the same way we would expect an adult to react to the situation. However, children should be expected to show respect to their new step parent. Although relationships can't be forced before their time, biological parents can and should insist on civil and respectful behaviour toward a step parent.

Discipline is a necessary part of parenting. In families with step parents, it may be best to allow the biological parent take the lead role here. If the step parent takes on the role of disciplinarian, it may simply add fuel to the fire.

With this in mind, it is still important for the step parent to be involved in setting the rules of the household. The couple should mutually agree on a code of behaviour and it is important to discuss the rules and punishments that existed before the new marriage occurred. It is unfair to change the rules on a child too quickly.

Parents need to form a unified front. If you disagree over discipline, discuss it when you are alone together, but do not allow the children to drive a wedge between you by playing you against one another.

It is also important for parent and step parent to be aware of new roles in the family. Step parents will need to create a personal relationship with each child and should set aside time to do special things together when the biological parent is not present. Be careful not to expect an instant love bond to occur though. Remember that relationships always take time.

Adjusting to the blended family situation will take time as well for everyone involved. Often, it can take several years. In the meantime, open and effective communication, patience, a positive attitude and forgiveness are crucial.

Protecting and nurturing the couple relationship is also of vital importance if a blended family situation is going to be successful. Remember to spend time alone together on a regular basis and affirm one another. Make your relationship a priority and discuss problems as they occur.

 

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