Steps to Successful Step-Parenting
As a divorce attorney and step-parent, I see good and bad step-parenting every day. Here are four rules that can help you have great relationships with your spouse and step-children, as well as protect your sanity.
1.Do not get involved in the court case between your new spouse and the ex.
This is hard. I see it every day. The step-parent (or soon-to-be step-parent) feels like they have been sucked into a court battle and they are raging. The ex and the children have nasty things to say about the step-parent, who feels attacked, blamed and unfairly judged.
If the child has two involved parents, one of the best things that you can do is recognize your role and stay out of the court case. You are not a proxy for the parent. You are not an extension of the parent. You have your own role to play in the child’s life and it is as a supporting character. Don’t go to the attorney meetings, don’t read the pleadings or the correspondence between the parents. Try to offer support to your spouse by expressing your confidence in his or her ability to work on what’s best for the child with the other parent.
2. Support the relationship between your step-children and their parent.
Unfortunately, many step-parents are jealous of the bond that their spouse has with their children. While this isn’t logical, perhaps reading this will help you to see there is NO reason to be jealous of your spouse. You may feel like your spouse treats their child differently from how the two of you treat your joint children—and it may be true. However, every child is different. Every relationship between each parent and child is different and should have room to develop independently. If you have concerns about the relationship or your own relationship needs are not being met, that is a separate conversation—one that you should have openly and without blaming the step-child.
3. Develop an actual relationship.
Spend time with your step-child and find common ground. Listen to your step-child and find out what they are interested in. Take your step-child out for one-on-one time. Children love routine. Even if you have a monthly date to the movies, your step-child will look forward to this ritual. They may be resistant at first, but stick with it; children are pretty predictable. If you listen to them, spend time with them and truly care, you will develop a long-lasting, positive relationship.
4. Don’t compare.
You have your own strengths to offer your step-child that no one else has. Don’t compare yourself with the competing step-parent or the parent of the child. Each person has unique gifts and just because your step-child’s mother is amazing at crafts doesn’t mean you need to be too. You may be great at baseball or cooking or finance. Figure out what unique gifts you have to offer, and understand that a child has the capacity to love many adults in their lives. The more people your step-child has to count on, the better. Your relationship isn’t dependent on being “better than” anyone.