For most people falling in love means finding that one special person, the giddy feeling that goes with it, and spending time learning about the other person. But what happens when that special person comes with kids?
We’ve all heard the statistics. 50% of all marriages fail. A lesser known fact is that 85% of remarriages fail, especially when kids are involved. We go into our relationships looking for the fairy tale, but in fairy tales, prince charming doesn’t come with an entourage, nor was he previously married to the wicked witch. In fact, in most fairy tales the step-mother is the evil one.
Kids tend to feel angry and hurt when their parents separate but they won’t attack the source of their anger. Instead, it’s much easier to attack the person they perceive as the interloper. So, what can you do? I’ve been a step-parent for 3 years now, so let me share with you a bit of that I’ve learned.
1 – Get to know them
Kids are not an extension of their parents. They are individuals with likes and dislikes in their own rights. Your step-child may be standoffish with you, so find out from their parent what their likes and dislikes are. Most children, if given the chance to talk about or do their favorite activity will throw themselves into it, no matter the company. And your significant other will appreciate the effort you put in even if the child doesn’t.
2 – Be a duck
That is, let any problems roll off you like water off a duck’s back. The child is trying to get a reaction from you by saying or doing things to bother you. And, much like in middle school, if they know they’ve struck a nerve, they’ll pick at it until you’re ready to tear your hair out. This is a delicate situation though. Don’t be too laid back because you can run the danger of losing authority in your own house. Know what limits and boundaries you need to set to feel comfortable.
3 – Don’t be the disciplinarian
At least, not with the kids. An important fact to remember is that you had no say in their creation, therefore the responsibility is not yours. That should fall to your significant other. However, it is a good idea to discuss what the rules and boundaries are so that if the children cross them, you can ensure your own sanity by alerting the proper authorities.
4 – Know where to place the blame
If all else fails, know that the problems you are having are likely not the child’s fault. They may be acting out, but at a certain point you have to look beyond the child to the people raising the child. Many non-custodial parents don’t want to play the role of the disciplinarian since they don’t get to see their children on a daily basis and many custodial parents harbor feelings towards their ex and their ex’s new significant other that the children pick up on, subtle or not. In my life, the phrase: “Mommy says” tends to make me cringe since I know that what follows will undoubtedly make me want to tear my hair out. I am lucky in that my husband and I have established rules to be followed. And I am also lucky in that my husband is willing to discipline his kids and ensure that I am treated with respect in our household.
Not all stepparents are so lucky and the stepchildren are just that, children. They will push the boundaries that are set for them, and if those boundaries aren’t enforced, will run rampant until a recognized authority figure reins them in. And, unfortunately for the stepparent, they start at a disadvantage. If the biological parent doesn’t enforce the respect and authority, the stepparent has no chance. If you suspect that your significant other is allowing the children to flaunt the rules, you’ll have to discipline your partner. If you don’t like the way he allows them to act, then inform him what you can or can’t live with and stick to what you want. This is harder than it sounds, but the rewards are rich.
In the end, kids are always kids. They are both selfish and generous, loving and cruel, because of the malleability of youth. Only the guidance and examples provided to them from the adults in their lives will affect the adults they become. And in today’s society where stepfamilies are rapidly becoming the norm, stepparents need to “step” forward and embrace that role.