Nowadays it is not uncommon to see a happy family consisting of children, a parent and a step parent. They can make it look so easy and effortless. However, if you are child-free and your new significant other does have children, the road to blissful family life is likely to be quite bumpy.
Getting step-parenting right is not an exact science, as each family situation is different. One person’s successful approach may totally alienate other children. Here are a few unexpected pitfalls of becoming a step parent.
First impressions count
How, when and where you are introduced to your future step-children will create a lasting impression and if you get it wrong, you have an awful lot of work on your hands. How you go about the introduction will depend on the age and awareness of the children. Very young children can get to know you as a friend of their parent first, however, older children will see right through this.
If older children feel that they are being deceived or having the wool pulled over their eyes, they will react badly to you, so honesty is always the best policy.
The other parent
When things are starting to get serious between you and your partner, more often than not the other parent will want to know more and may start to make life difficult. How they react will depend on the nature of the break up, their involvement with the children and your current partner’s previous exes.
Find out as much as you can about the other partner and their current situation and relationships. Also find out if the children have been introduced to several potential step parents prior to you.
Be prepared for the other parent to act defensively, it is a huge thing to not have a say in another adult being a major part of your children’s lives, so respect what they say and keep the lines of communication open.
If the other parent starts to make life very difficult for you, consult your family lawyer.
Let the children get to know you on their terms and don’t expect instant acceptance. Children can be very shrewd when it comes to major life changes and will not appreciate fake displays of enthusiasm, bribery or a stranger instantly trying to parent them.
If you allow the relationship to develop naturally at the pace the children set, you will stand a much higher chance of succeeding than if you try to force it. This will lead to disappointment and frustration.
Respect the situation
It is a big deal to step in and step up as a step parent, but also very rewarding. You will be taking on a life time commitment and the whole family will have to adjust to the new situation.
Before things get serious, talk long and hard with your partner about their situation and decide if it is right for you. You won’t be thanked for changing your mind when family life suddenly becomes difficult, as you will be causing another disruption in the children’s lives. If you respect the family dynamic and the rights of the children to a stable and loving home, then you will soon find yourself rising above the pitfalls of step-parenting.