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Properly Defining Your Expectations as a Step Parent
Divorce is a tricky thing to navigate when children are involved; becoming a step parent is even trickier. With the proper care and communication in defining expectations, however, you can make it easier on yourself, your spouse and the children involved. How?
Loop the Kids in on Communication
First thing’s first: you may be new to the picture, so you want to assume that there’s going to be a time period of adjustment. If you feel awkward, think about how the kids might feel… they may feel as odd as you do to have this new person in their lives acting as an authority figure. If it’s appropriate, facilitate communication with them on what they expect from you, and what they don’t (it’s best to let your spouse handle this, or to do it together). This will allow you to understand a little more of what they need in their time of adjustment, and it will show them how you really do treasure their input.
Discuss it Thoroughly with Your Spouse
The conversation with the kids is not the end-all, be-all. Their requests may be completely legitimate in the best case scenario, or they’ll be utterly ridiculous, proving that adjustment isn’t coming easily. No matter the case, the next best step is to discuss it in great detail, over several conversations, with your spouse. Bear in mind this one fact: you’ll never fill the shoes of their original parent (which may be a great thing or a hard thing to swallow). Once both parents are on the same page, informing the kids in an appropriate manner is a great next step. Do this with each child individually to give them a tailored understanding of what it means for them.
Start Small; Work Up to Complicated Matters
You cannot go into your new role assuming that you know exactly what that looks like; to do so is a grand mistake. You’ll need to flexibly grow into your role, keeping in mind that you’ll be earning trust and favor with the kids as time passes, not as you define. Start with practical things- you’re a new authority figure, you’re there to govern right from wrong in obvious matters. You’re a carpool carrier; a grade receiver; a meal prepper. You’re everything that kids need in a parent, and overtime, an emotional bond will form within those perimeters that’s unique to you. Before you know it, you’ll have the privilege of relaying relationship advice to your step-teen child in a natural way, not in a forced or awkward way.
Be Flexible, and Be Sensitive to Kids’ Needs
No matter what the relationship looks like as time progresses, you’ll always need to be sensitive to the fact that the original parent may always have a place in the child’s life that you don’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to keep in mind. This is especially in the case of older kids whose original parents are still very much involved in their lives. Sometimes a girl needs her mom when her heart’s been broken; sometimes a boy wants that father-son time that he was promised. Having a great relationship with your step kids doesn’t mean that the bond with their original parent, your spouse’s ex, should sever. Work with everyone to ensure that the children get the attention that they need from the parent they need it from.
Navigating through the lives of broken families, and placing yourself in a permanent position when the family is healing and starting fresh can be tricky. Be sensitive, communicate well, and take great care, and you’ll get through it successfully.