The fact is, when it comes to being a step parent in the blended family scenario, you are constantly being judged; by your step kids, by your spouse, by the relatives, by old friends who knew the ex-spouse, and by yourself. The scrutiny is generally about which category of stepparent you fall into: the evil step mother and all that implies, or the nurturing Mother Earth overflowing with love for the children of another woman; the domineering step father who wants all the attention for himself, or the kind of pal who is brimming with fun, easygoing affection and insightful fatherly advice. Some days you feel like you are doing passably well; others –not so much.
Ignore what you cannot change
Face it. If relatives and former friends of the ex-spouse insist on finding you unsuitable, all you can do is to keep on being who you are and hope they will come around sooner or later. Try to remember you do not need their endorsement as a good step mother or step father, and take comfort in the strong relationship you and your spouse have formed.
Blended family relationships that count
As a step parent, after those with your spouse and biological children, the relationships that matter are the ones you build with your step kids. Many step children are just not expecting to like you or your presence in their lives very much, so your work is cut out for you. Happily, young children tend to be flexible about whom they love and why, but adolescents are apt to be prickly at best and can be downright hateful at their worst.
Empathy and sympathy
Try to remember that your step kids are only children, and your own apprehension is more than matched by their own misgivings. After all they have already been through, a new step mother or step father has appeared unasked for, and very likely unwanted, just as they were getting used to a new normal. Step kids can be stubborn, rude, and absolutely vicious when they want to be. Instead of taking their resentment personally, try to imagine being in their place. As horrible as they can sometimes be, step kids are just confused children reacting to a difficult situation, the only way they know how.
Fake it until you make it
Even if you have not yet fallen totally in love with your step kids, act as if you have. Demonstrate love and unconditional acceptance, and do it often. It may not always be easy to pull off, but the more positive your attitude is, the harder it will be for your step kids to treat you otherwise. Also, be generous with praise when they deserve it. Never assume your step kids know that you love them or are proud of them; tell them as often as is appropriate. Even if they pretend to dismiss your supportive words, they secretly appreciate it.
Door mats are for feet
Regardless of who is assigned disciplinary authority over your step kids, you are entitled to set limits on what you will and will not tolerate from them; refuse to accept name-calling, rudeness, slamming doors, refusing to pick up after themselves, or whatever else may push your buttons. Be reasonable and fair, but be consistent in your expectations and in meting out consequences for unacceptable behavior.
Use your support system
Honest communication with your spouse about your relationship struggles with his or her kids is vital if you are to expect support from your partner. He or she needs to know which blended family strategies are working and which efforts continue to be a struggle for you. It is important to maintain a unified front as parents of a blended family, and that can only happen with open communication. When discussing your struggles with the step kids, always try to remain objective and fair so your spouse does not feel the need to be defensive. And forgive yourself for your perceived failures, real or not. Trying your best is, after all, trying your best.
Filed under: Blended and step family
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