“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.”
– Franklin P. Adams
Parenting, in general, comes with great and many expectations, fears, rewards, joy, confusion, laughter and tears. Parenting in a stepfamily you may (ok you will) feel all these and then some! The roles are more complex and responsibilities can be somewhat divided. These challenges are best met when parents and stepparents are united and reach agreements on how to handle certain situations (yes I know easier said than done!).
You will have your own style, but it is very important that parents and stepparents are on the same page when it comes to the wellbeing of the children and one another. This means regular, positive communication and planning along with a unified or shared understanding of acceptable behaviours, behaviour management strategies and consequences for any children’s misbehaviour. It is crucial that you all reassure your children that they are loved and will always have a place in your life. It is also important that you are positive role-models; by showing caring, respectful relationships for your children (and to one another – it’s hard but try!) and to learn and grow (particularly if your last relationship lacked some of these characteristics). You might have to let go of some contempt but at the end of the day, the kids need to see it!
If you decide to extend the family and have a baby together, this can be a beautiful an exciting time but you’ll need to be considerate about the feelings of the other children when discussing the new addition to your already changing family. Expect an array of different emotions (depending on how many children) and try to ensure that all the children and/or stepchildren still feel equally special.
A few things to consider:
- Parenting as a stepparent comes with varying emotions and expectations. It can be exciting and rewarding, but more often than not, it can test everybody’s patience and character. Be aware that the children can feel conflicting loyalties between their parents and stepparents.
- Stepfamilies are different from nuclear families. The foundations are different and careful reconstruction and negotiation of roles and responsibilities is often required. Parenting within this family environment can be very challenging, but many people do it successfully.
- Be aware that many children will not want the change and will wish for the situation to return to how it was before. This is quite normal and they are not trying to hurt you or make things difficult, but these emotions sometimes come across in the form of unacceptable behaviours.
- It can be helpful to make some rules or guidelines with your partner about when you will have active involvement as a stepparent with your partners’ children (homework, discipline, providing transport etc) and when you will stay in the background as a support. Maintaining set rules, routines and boundaries will make the parenting a lot easier.
Some practical ideas
- Aim to be fair and treat all children the same (appropriate to their age)
- Let the primary (biological) parent of his or her children discipline their own children if possible. Be there as a support but don’t administer the discipline (unless there’s no other option). Research suggests that children naturally want their parents to discipline them if necessary.
- Be prepared to be treated differently as a stepparent – but with respect. Don’t expect a bond to form straight away, this can sometimes take years, just try to be accommodating and communicate openly.
- If you are faced with difficult situations try and put yourself in the children’s shoes, this is a difficult exercise but if done genuinely can raise our awareness.
- Work on your parenting style. Learn some positive parenting techniques. Children thrive when they are guided and supported rather than criticised. Remember even discipline is about learning, not punishment.
- Take some time out together as a couple, not only for some essential alone time but also to discuss your parenting choices.
- Don’t ask open-ended questions to younger children, provide two options (both which you are happy with), this ensures you get the desired result and it empowers the child as they get to make a choice.
- Try not to get caught up in heated arguments with adolescent stepchildren. Walk away and work together to help resolve the situation by discussing it at another time.
- With older children sit down, discuss and make decisions that affect the family together, this involves them and makes them feel like their opinion is valued, giving them a sense of responsibility.
If you are struggling to work together as a team please reach out:
- Stepfamilies Australia: www.stepfamily.org.au
- Family Relationships Advice Line: 1800 050 321
- Family Relationships Online: familyrelationships.gov.au
- Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800, kidshelp.com.au
- Lifeline: 13 11 14 Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978
- Raising Children: www.raisingchildren.net.au
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