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by    Anthony Kane, MD
 
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How to Approach Being a Stepparent



Introduction

If being a parent is difficult, then being a stepparent is nearly impossible. Yet in the United States half of all first marriages break up. More and more people are finding themselves in the position of being a stepparent. This article will describe for you what you are up against as a stepparent and what you should do to succeed.

The Stepparent from Child's Point of View

If the child is young when his parent remarries, then things usually go smoothly. The child grows up living with his stepparent and sees the other natural parent outside of the home. Such a child usually views having multiple parents as normal and often develops a closer relationship to the stepparent than the other natural parent.

The problems begin if the new stepparent appears on the scene when the child is older. Older children rarely view the new adult as a true parent. More often they view the new adult as an intruder into their home.

There are a number of reasons for this:
  • When the first marriage breaks up, the child had to make a major adjustment to live in a single parent household. With time the new living situation became set and normal. The appearance of a new adult disrupts everything. This is particularly true if there are also new siblings in the picture.


  • Up until now the child had the undivided attention of the parent. Now the child has to compete with an outsider.

  • When his parent brings a new adult into the household, the child may feel that the original "contract" with his natural parent has been violated. He feels betrayed. It was his home and his parent brought in an intruder. Such a child may react to the stepparent like any native whose homeland was violated.

  • Children often fantasize that their parents will get back together. The new stepparent destroys all possibilities of this happening.

  • A child feels loyalty to his natural parent. He may think that it was he that caused his other parent to leave the household. This will be especially true if parent's visits are rare or erratic. As a result he may feel guilty, angry, and abandoned. He may feel that showing affection or developing a relationship with the new stepparent will be a betrayal of his natural parent.
All of these things give a child a lot of reasons to resent the stepparent.

The Stepchild from the Stepparent's Point of View

It is not only the child who has problems with the new relationship. A stepparent also may find creating a connection with the stepchild difficult. The stepparent entered into a marriage with the child's mother or father. He or she may never have anticipated or considered the difficulties that the spouse's children would cause.

The stepparent may experience loyalty conflicts. He or she may feel guilty over not living with his or her own biological children. Also, it might be difficult adjusting to these new live-in stepchildren.

Sometimes the stepparent is not really interested in the stepchild. He or she never intended to become a parent to the child.

What You Can Do

Okay, so you are now in a new marriage. There are stepchildren involved and it is not turning out like The Brady Bunch. This is the reality. There are a number of things you can do to make it go a bit smoother.
  • Your goal is to create a new family:
    There is no natural bond between a stepparent and a stepchild. The way to develop such a bond is by doing things together as a family. Sharing common interests and activities increases bonding.

  • Try to create a personal connection:
    In order to create a personal connection, the stepparent should try to spend private time with the stepchild. Such a bond may never develop but this is how you approach it.

  • Insist upon respect from the stepchildren:
    You may never get attachment or love, but you should expect mutual respect. The way you get respect is by giving respect.

  • Try to minimize the changes in the child's lifestyle:
    Children need some things to remain the same. Keeping the child's daily schedule the same can help to lessen the disruption of the new family. Do not make unnecessary changes.

  • The natural parent must act as the arbitrator:
    Conflicts will inevitably arise between the stepparent and stepchildren. The natural parent must be the peace maker. Sometimes all that involves is giving recognition to the injured party. This will do a lot to take down the hurt.

  • The natural parent is in charge of discipline:
    The stepparent has enough going against him. He shouldn't make it worse by taking on the role of disciplinarian. Once the rules of the house are agreed upon, the natural parent is the one who enforces them. If the stepparent has to discipline, for example when the other parent isn't around, he does so not as a "parent", but as the "adult in charge".

  • Get the "You're not my parent" conversation out of the way:
    It is going to happen. When it does, just state quite clearly, "You're right, I'm not. You have a mommy and a daddy and I do not want to replace them."

  • Tell the child it is okay to like the stepparent:
    The child may feel he is betraying the parent that left by liking the stepparent. The natural parent should make it clear that it is alright for the child to like the stepparent. It does not mean that he is being disloyal to his other parent.

  • Your marriage comes first:
    This is paramount! The most vulnerable relationship in the house is your marriage. Do whatever it takes to keep your marriage in good shape. One of the main causes of divorce in step families is the stress from children. Set aside "private time" with your spouse and guard that time carefully.

    Conclusion

    Fortunately, it is not essential that stepparents and stepchildren like each other. It is nicer when it happens, but they can still live together when it does not. However, you should insist upon an atmosphere of mutual respect.

    There is no "instant" love. Adjusting to the new relationships takes time. Although the adults have fallen in love and have decided to live together, the children may not like the new setup. You need to have realistic expectations concerning the children's periods of adjustment. It will take time to adjust to the loss of the former family structure and to accept the new situation. It may be months or years or never. That is just how it is. If you stay focused on the steps outlined here it should make things better. In the end you may not have one big happy family, but you can have a workable household.


    Anthony Kane, MD

    ADD ADHD Advances

    http://addadhdadvances.com




    "If Child Behavior is an Issue in Your Home, it is definitely Worth Your While to check this out."

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