Tips for Effective Stepparenting
Read Time: 5 Minutes
Marriage can be challenging but being married with children or stepchildren can be an even bigger challenge. Becoming involved with someone who brings children into the relationship can be rewarding. It can also be difficult to know where you fit in, and often, like you're an outsider when you are in a blended family.
Outlined below are some typical challenges facing stepmoms and stepdads, and tips on how to manage those co-parenting challenges. The hope is that by using these suggestions, you can become more confident, effective, and fulfilled in your role.
One Team. Different Challenges.
Even the strongest marriages often find the dynamics of raising children and stepchildren challenging. Partners often find themselves feeling alone in their respective roles as a stepmom or stepdad. Being a biological parent is a much different dynamic than being a stepparent, and that can cause stress, anxiety, and sometimes, conflict. When co-parenting, here are some ways to cope and find that middle ground:
Normalize the challenge.
It's not easy being a parent, a stepmom, or a stepdad. Just knowing the struggle is real and common can take pressure off everyone.
Normalize the intensity.
It's normal for a stepmom or stepdad to feel left out, jealous, and invisible. And it's normal for them to feel guilty, inadequate, or anxious while trying to meet many people's different needs.
Build the relationship you want.
Partners should carve out lots of one-on-one time. Talk about feelings and help each other understand your respective positions and challenges.
Make sure you and your partner have time together without the children to fully attend to each other's needs. It's not always easy to reconnect due to life's many pressures. But some time without the kids will do wonders for communication and your relationships.
Parents and children also need “alone time” together. It's a great way to give the parent and child time to share their own traditions. It reminds a child that some of the things they hold most dear haven't changed. And that's important in helping a child feel secure in their relationship.
Stepmoms and stepdads also need to be able to spend time with their stepchildren. Common interests can form strong bonds and can even help broaden a child's experiences. For instance, a stepmom or stepdad may share an interest in things like cycling, cooking, or art with a stepchild, where the child's parent may not.
- Establish regular parent/child bonding time.
- Find similar activities and shared interests. This allows stepparents and stepchildren to form a bond that is unique to both.
- Alleviate loyalty confusion by helping children see that it's ok to like parents and stepmom or stepdad, It's important for them to know they are loved by everyone.
Take care of yourself, too.
As a stepmom or stepdad, you might need some time away from the family. That's okay. This can include activities with friends outside the family that help prevent stepparent burnout. This also provides an opportunity for parent/child time.
There are times when a stepmom or stepdad may need to vent frustrations a bit. The stepparent role is stressful and needing to blow off some steam is normal. That's the time to talk confidentially to a friend or counselor. While talking to your partner is preferred in most cases, venting frustrations is a personal coping mechanism. It can even help you calm down and think more clearly so you can communicate more effectively with your partner.
Connection before correction.
Parents and stepparents may have different ways to handle conflict. Parents tend to be more lenient and stepparents stricter. Coming to an agreement on what's acceptable in co-parenting and what isn't helps parent and stepparent work more effectively and consistently, which puts less stress on their relationship. It also helps the child feel more secure and to understand what is expected.
- Get to know your stepchildren before immediately disciplining them. Let the parents remain disciplinarians.
- Tolerate some backtalk, but don't let it cross the line. When children are allowed to voice their disagreement, it helps rules to stick.
- Watch out for “leaking” which is talking bad about the ex-spouse. They listen more than you think. This can be confusing to the child.
Creating a Family Culture.
You can expect a certain number of mistakes and missteps in the beginning as family members are getting to know each other. Understand that this is normal with a blended family and doesn't mean anything is wrong.
Help ease children's losses. Explain to them what will change and what will stay the same so that they are able to manage expectations.
It helps to regulate the amount of change. There is no hurry in getting to know one another. Take the process slow and enjoy what you find along the way.
Holiday rituals are another great opportunity to create a family bond. Make negotiations over what rituals you keep. Invent new ones for the new family. This can help form a sense of “we-ness”.
- Families don't happen overnight. Take all the time you need.
- Understand the child is going through a loss.
- Holidays are fun ways to make new traditions.
Transitions from household to household.
Transitions from household to household can be the most stressful moments in stepparenting. It can create anxiety, which can cause frustration and shame to rear their ugly heads. Try to manage expectations. Be consistent and talk with your partner about ways to make transitions easier on everyone.
- Prepare ahead of time.
- During a transition, go to an environment that makes you feel comfortable, casual, and relaxed.
- Don't talk, just listen. Silence can help transition.
- Anticipate that the kids may be grumpy.
- Let the parent handle the initial transition then join in when it feels appropriate.
It's true that stepparenting causes unique and difficult challenges but these challenges don't necessarily have to be negative. A lot of times, with open communication, challenges can bring families closer.
Remember: Show yourself some compassion. Incorporate selfcare. Seek out support. Being a stepparent is not an easy role, but it can be a rewarding one for everyone involved.