When my wife and I married I took on the role of step-father to a two-year-old little boy, Walter. I didn’t think much about step-parenting at the time, other than the fact that I knew I loved Walter and I was really excited to take on the role. What I neglected to consider was that I was also going to have a relationship with his father! I realized pretty quickly that it was tougher for him than for me.
If you remember nothing else, whether you’re a parent or step-parent, remember the Golden Rule never hurts: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. So ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were in one of other’s shoes: the mom, the dad, the step-father, the step-mother? Think it’s easier said than done? Read on!
If you’re one of the parents
Sure, parenting can be a tough, from lack of sleep and dirty diapers to dating and curfews. But an unexpected challenge can be splitting up and being “forced” to interact with your child’s new step-parent.
Once the divorce or break-up is final, you have at least three different relationships to deal with: Your relationship with your ex-husband or ex-wife, your relationship with your child or children, and your relationship with your child’s new step-parent. And, as perhaps you’ve discovered, the emotional experience of seeing your ex with someone new is hardly pleasant – but you can’t ignore them because you’re sharing a child!
Consider these tips
- You and your ex aren’t working on your relationship any longer, you’re working on being good parents. So remember that it’s not about you two anymore.
- You are the model for your child and you get to control how your child sees you act. Are you angry and bitter? Ok, let’s work on that. But the kids don’t need the details.
- If one of your parents ever talked smack about the other, how did that make you feel? You can bet your kiddo feels the same. And if your little one doesn’t hear anything negative from you, she has nothing to repeat to her mom or dad!
- Your child’s step-parent is probably just as uncomfortable as you and they’ll follow your lead: If you’re edgy and aggressive, expect the same. If you’re calm and respectful it may not necessarily control the other’s behavior, but it will certainly contribute to a more agreeable atmosphere for all involved – most especially the children.
- Finally, be aware that there’s a good chance that the only information the new step-parent is getting on you is largely negative. Your ex may not be your greatest supporter at this time. Let your actions show your true colors.
If you’re one of the step-parents
Parenting, in general, is perhaps life’s greatest responsibility, but step-parenting is challenging as well, offering its own set of conundrums. For example what, exactly, is your role in this new, blended family? Are you a friend? A parent? Both? Neither?! And let’s be real: you may well have many of the same responsibilities as a parent, without the same rewards.
However, what many step-parents may struggle with most is their relationship with the other adults in the picture. You may be automatically resented for (at least!) two reasons: you’re with his or her ex, and you’re with his or her children. So know that even when you’re putting your best foot forward and maintaining a positive attitude, you may be fighting an uphill battle. In the eyes of the parent, you’ve replaced them not only in the arms of their ex (whether they miss their ex, or not, may not be relevant early on) but also in the physical space they shared with their child.
Consider these tips
You may be hearing about only the worst of your new partner’s ex. But you can control how your step-child’s parent see’s you behave, so overwhelm them with a positive, respectful, collaborative attitude.
- The parent is likely scared, sad, and mad. They don’t get to see their child every day now and that can stir up some pretty powerful feelings. They may feel as though they’ve betrayed their son or daughter, they see you as trying to step in and fill the space they’ve left. So if the parent comes off as a bit defensive, try to be empathetic.
- If your partner’s ex is still single, that may well contribute to even more tender feelings, as they may feel left behind and even more hesitant to interact positively. Remember to try to take the high road – and stay on it – on you’ll have few regrets about your own actions.
It’s like my wife said to her ex years ago when wounds were still fresh and things were getting too emotional: “This isn’t about us,
it’s about our son. This is the business of raising Walter.”
Remember: You are all business partners and your goal is to raise a happy, healthy child. Period. Now, if all four of you – or three, or seven, or how many ever – can take this to heart, the yes, you canal get along!
About the Author:
Tim Mullins has worked with adolescents and their families for nearly ten years as a high school teacher and administrator, He is currently works as a behavioral therapist, providing therapy to adolescents with developmental disabilities and is currently completing his Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Regis University.