It’s hard work, dedication, love and challenges and … kids aren’t even yet in this picture! Entering a relationship with someone who has children requires graduation to a whole new level of hard work and dedication. At this stage, you are building a relationship not only with one, but with two or three or more individuals. It’s not easy, but it can be done and it’s more than worth it!
Through my own step-parenting journey, I have accumulated some hard-learned lessons that I am happy to share:
- You are a parent! Don’t try to replace the biological parent. By assuming responsibilities and caring for your step-child’s needs, you are already a parent! There is greater richness for the child who is able to enjoy all existing parental figures in their lives, with all of their unique qualities.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate with your new partner! You need to be on or get on the same page with everything relating to caring for the child’s needs. Disagreeing is OK, but not in front of the child. Negotiate disagreements when both of you are calm and collected. The child needs to see and feel a respectful and collaborative front.
- Have fun with your step-child! Creating positive memories can be a great healer. Laughter and fun activities help create sociability and well-being for the entire family. Have some one on one bonding time too! Go for a walk or to a movie or play sports together. Creating your own special bond can be an invaluable source of comfort and emotional connectedness.
- Support and encourage the child’s relationship with the biological parent! Don’t compete with the biological parent. It will only place the child in the middle and risk alienating him/her from you.
- Don’t take it personally! Your step-child may show some anger or frustration, even lashing out at you. Divorce/separation and its impact is multifaceted; children haven’t yet mastered emotional control and may still mourn the breakdown of their family. Be compassionate and understanding.
- Don’t face-off with the biological parent! Even if the other parent is disrespectful or instigative, take the high road! Don’t get trapped into responding in a similar fashion. Remember, your focus is your new family and getting into confrontations, especially in front of children or new partner, only serves to destabilize your family’s emotional well-being.
- Don’t denigrate the biological parent in front of the child! When emotions are high and conflict escalates, lots of us are tempted to shout out loud all the negative things we may think about the other parent. Don’t do it in front of your step-child! No matter how you really feel, remember that the child is equally identifying with both biological parents. If you portray them in a negative light, your step-child may associate with and internalize those attributes. The goal is to raise or help in raising well-adjusted, confident and balanced individuals!
- Develop your own support network and take some time for yourself! Being in the parental role is not easy! At least once every month, try arranging something just for you: a day trip, an overnight at a sibling or friend’s house or even out of town. We often get caught up in the whirlwind of daily life, so much so that we lose our own rhythms. It is important to re-connect with yourself, re-align with your intentions and recharge. Everyone in your family has something to gain from it!
Laura Catone-Tarcea, AccFm
President and Founder of Family Mediation and Resource Centre