By Kayli Worthey
The stepparent role can be confusing and stressful, but there are many different strategies one can use to help it be smoother. Good strategies, combined with open communication and a willingness to work hard, can help families with step-relationships involved.
A large majority of families in our society have stepparents and stepchild. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 42% of 2,691 adults said they have at least one step relative. Additionally, 3 in 10 have a step or half sibling, 18% have a living stepparent, and 13% have at least one stepchild. However, just because blended families and stepparents are becoming more common, does not mean it has become any easier.
There is no graceful way to become a stepparent and that’s OKAY. It's okay if your attempts at blending with a family have landed somewhere in between imperfect and chaos, and it's okay if being a stepparent feels way more stressful than you originally thought. But, the important thing is that you’re trying. You’re reading this right now because you are putting an effort into your stepparent/stepchild relationship.
Despite the challenges of stepparenting, there are many different rewards that make every sacrifice and pothole worth it. The opportunity to play a central role in a child’s life is not only rewarding to you but also to your stepchild and partner. You have the opportunity to be a positive, supportive, and loving adult in a child’s life. You also get to experience the support of an extended family network and create a united loving family with your partner (Fogarty, Ferrer, & McCrea, 2016).
A few strategies that have worked for others:
Plan Ahead. One may not think that parenting styles and family roles should be a conversation for couples dating, but in reality – serious relationships require serious conversations especially when children are involved. Before making the commitment to creating a blended family, the couple should discuss important issues such as rules & expectations, discipline, living arrangements, and schedules. If possible, these should be done before moving in together with time for children to process and adjust to the idea of it (American Psychological Association, 2019).
Open the Lines of Communication. Open Communication should be the foundation for every relationship where building trust is involved. In order to create a positive relationship with your partner and stepchildren, it is important to be honest, share your feelings and opinions with your partner, and actively listen to everyone within the blended family. Being a stepparent means not only listening to your partner, but your stepchildren as well (Eldemire, 2017).
Be Flexible. One of the most important qualities of any parent (biological or step) is to be flexible. Stepparenting requires sacrifices, but those sacrifices will pay off. Putting your spouse and stepchild first, will help build better relationships as it creates a sense of trust. This does not mean ignoring your obligations in life, but if possible, move things around to be able to show up for your blended family. For example, if your stepchild's ball game falls on the same night as your book club, choosing to attend the game would be a worthwhile and simple way to show support for your spouse and stepchild (Fogarty, Ferrer, & McCrea, 2016).
Allow Biological Parents to Be Leaders. Stepparenting is often filled with lots of gray areas, rather than black and white. While you may take parent in child-rearing and making decisions for your stepchildren, you are still not their biological parent. Despite, personal feelings and custody schedules, the biological parents are the leaders of child-rearing. While it is encouraged to share opinions, desires, and a different perspective with your spouse, biological parents have the final say on how to parent their children. Being a stepparent means to be an additional support for your spouse and the children (Fogarty, Ferrer, & McCrea, 2016).
Follow the Child's Lead. One of the biggest struggles of stepparenting, is creating a stepparent and stepchild relationship. Children may seem hesitant to create a relationship with their parent’s partner as they may feel disloyal to their other biological parent or just not ready for that new relationship. Children are often the ones required to face the most change when a parent remarries. Therefore, the child's pace in creating a relationship with a stepparent should be your guide. This may take the shape of waiting until the child initiates affection, accepting the (respectful) name they choose to call you, looking for natural opportunities to connect, and offering time for discussions or shared activities (American Psychological Association, 2019).
Show Respect. Stepparenting may seem impossible if parenting is seen as the hardest job on the planet. Any healthy relationship requires the foundation of open communication, respect, and trust. As a stepparent, you should be respectful of your stepchildren, their home, and their biological parent. Treat your stepchildren in the way you expect to be treated and you are more likely to see those actions reciprocated (Fogarty, Ferrer, & McCrea, 2016).
While becoming a stepparent and forming a blended family may be challenging, it is rewarding for all involved. Putting in consistent effort to your stepparent/stepchild relationship and your blended family will help offset the inevitable bumps in the road are inevitable. Remember best way to blend a family is by doing what's right for your family, not what's right for anyone else's.