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14 Easy Tips To Make Step Parenting More Comfortable

Probably the only thing harder than being a parent is being a step parent. You want to be instantly accepted by your new family, you want to be liked by your stepchildren, you want to gain their trust – but it’s a game of patience. Sometimes, you feel like a failure, because no matter what you do, you are still seen as the parent trying to replace the other one. To avoid such scenarios, here are some useful tips which will help you keep your sanity as a step parent.

1) REMEMBER THAT ONLY FOOLS RUSH IN

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Don’t be a try-hard. I know you want the children to love you and not give you any headaches, but let love come naturally. Children know when you are faking it and even if they accept your gifts which are a sign of goodwill, they will realize that you are trying to buy them and – simply put – they won’t buy it! Instead of making attempts at being the cool parent, just be natural and genuine in all your interactions with them. Honesty always brings the best results.

2) KNOW HOW THE OTHER PARENTS DISCIPLINE AND REWARD

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Once again, avoid being that cool parent who gets the kids out of trouble when they are punished by your partner or his/her ex. Even if the family has now new dynamics, you still have to be on the same page with everyone in terms of rewards, chores, bedtimes, etc. By having a completely different set of rules, you would only undermine the other parent’s authority and respect in front of his/her kids. However, if you are constant and continue with the same rules that have been established before your arrival in the family, it’s more likely to have a better transition and interaction with the kids.

3) DON’T TRY TO CUT TIES WITH THE OTHER PARENT

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You are not competing with the other parent for the children’s attention. For children to love you, it doesn’t mean that they have to stop loving the other parent – you can all co-exist. As a matter of fact, you should encourage your stepchildren to spend time with your partner’s ex. Showing your support towards the biological parent sends them all the right messages. They will take notice of your goodwill and realize that you don’t want to take the other parent out of the picture and replace him/her.

4) ENCOURAGE KIDS TO SHARE THEIR FEELINGS

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Have family meetings to learn how the children feel, what they like, what they hate, what they expect of you. If they have issues with your behavior, instead of pretending that you are the adult and you know better, be open to their suggestions and try to work it out. Remember to listen to what they have to say, no matter if you like their opinions or not.

5) HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

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When you enter a new family and you already have kids of your own, you are often tempted to expect your stepchildren to behave just like them, overlooking that you and your biological kids have a shared history, while with your stepchildren, you don’t have a past. You won’t have the same interactions, because they have different personalities and have been raised differently. Be patient and accept this new family dynamic, without constantly comparing it to your own. Step parenting with realistic expectations takes a lot of pressure and stress of your shoulders, because you are focusing less on how it should be and more on how it actually is.

6) KNOW YOUR LIMITS

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It’s tempting to show your authority and demand respect from your stepchildren by over-disciplining them. However, such actions have the exact opposite effect, making them despise you from stepping out of your bounds. Let the disciplining in their biological parents’ hands and only step in after you gain enough confidence and respect from them. Once you create a bond, your chances of being listened to highly increase. Disciplining is not something you do TO EARN respect, but something you do AFTER you earned that respect.

7) ACCEPT THE FACT THAT YOU WILL PROBABLY HEAR “YOU’RE NOT MY REAL PARENT!” A LOT

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It’s inevitable. You will have disagreements with your stepchildren at some point and they will throw the classic “You’re not my real parent!” as a way to hurt your feelings and leave them alone. It’s their way to take power away from your own role in the family. When that happens, agree with them. After all, they are right – it’s just the way they are saying it that makes it hurtful. Your best bet is to acknowledge your position as a stepparent, by reinforcing the fact that you don’t have to be their biological one in order to love them or care for them.

8) DO FUN ACTIVITIES WITH YOUR STEPCHILDREN

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There is hardly a better way to bond with your kids than to organize fun activities with them. Have a bike ride together, watch a movie together, go shopping together, clean the house together. Doing such activities with them won’t just give you the chance to know their personalities better, but also to make them more appreciative of your role in the family.

9) DON’T GET OFFENDED BY THEIR WORDS

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If they say hurtful things or misbehave, in an attempt to make you leave the family, don’t take it personally. Remember that most of the time, such behaviors don’t necessarily reflect their feelings towards you, but rather their feelings towards the split of their parents (or loss of one, which is incredibly traumatic). They feel frustrated and hurt; if we are talking about a divorce, it’s normal for children to hold out hopes that their parents might still reunite at some point. When the stepparent comes into the picture, it feels like you’ve crushed all their hopes and dreams for simply falling in love with their parent. It takes time to get over it and realize that they are not getting back together. Accept their feelings and work at your relationship using baby steps.

10) SEE YOURSELF MORE AS THEIR RELATIVE, RATHER THAN THE PARENT

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Even if you do love them as if they were your own kids, begin your relationship with them by positioning yourself as a loving relative. If they see you trying to act as a parent, they might feel like you are threatening their place in the family and the relationship they have with the parent. They might see your behavior as an attempt to create your own family with their parent, without including them in your plans. For them to see you as a parent takes time – after all, the relationships with their own parents took years to build. Look at them as individuals, as family members you are trying to raise and mentor and once you have the confidence to, act as a parent or as a friend.

11) THE MAIN RULES ARE THAT THERE ARE NO RULES

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Ok, that’s not quite the case, but being a step parent means having flexibility. Just like there are no precise rules for parenting in general, such is the case of step parenting as well. Every child is different, every family is different and you have to mold yourself around your new family and not the other way around. You can even have different relationships with your stepchildren, since they are all individuals unique in their own way; you might click better with some than with others. Stepparents also need to know what kind of involvement the biological parent has. If they are still involved in their children’s upbringing, it’s best to take a step back and act less as a parent and more like a mentor. If the parent is deceased or absent from their lives, you have more responsibilities and you will need to be more involved in their upbringing. Once you manage to build a foundation of mutual trust, you will be able to be the parental figure they are missing. However, your role as a step parent also depends on the role your partner has – is she/he the decision-maker or the absolute matriarchal/patriarchal figure? If they have everything in control, you might consider getting yourself involved less in disciplinary issues.

12) BE HONEST WITH YOUR PARTNER ABOUT YOUR PROGRESS

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As much as you try to pretend that things are perfect with your stepchildren, don’t go there. Don’t pretend that everything is fine, after you sat in a pool of tears because they told you they would never let you take their biological parent’s place. Come clean and talk with your partner about the difficulties you encounter. It’s OK not to instantly click – you can’t just appear in front of the kids and ask them to love you. Parenting itself is a continuous process and even the affection from biological kids is something that needs to be built, rather than achieved overnight. If you talk with your partner about how you treat them and how they treat you, you might realize what you need to change in your interactions and how to understand the kids better.

13) DON’T TRY TO CHANGE EVERYTHING

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Once again, consistency is the way to go. For the kids, the fact that they might have seen their parents divorce, move to another house, see them remarry or get used to the idea of having new siblings, can be traumatic and very difficult to grasp. If, on top of that, the new parent comes with his/her own rules, they are simply not having it. Don’t try to be the parent who fixes everything and erases the past. No matter how hurt they might be in the present, you can’t and shouldn’t try to replace their memories with new ones. Good or bad, it was their experience; don’t dwell on the past, but focus on the future. If things need to be changed, do them one step at a time and be prepared for a long journey – it can take up to 7 years for the family dynamics to normalize.

14) BE PREPARED TO BE TESTED

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Your stepchildren will try to test the waters with you. They will try to see if you are disciplining them like their biological parents, if you are more tolerant or stricter. It’s a way for them to establish how much control they have and they might even pit you against your partner, just to get a reaction from you. Again, don’t take it personally; you might be doing everything right, but they just want to know the kind of person they are dealing with – it’s something they would do with every stepparent, so it’s not about you. Make yourself respected and try to avoid discrepancies between your parenting style and the one of your partner.

 

When you enter a new family, there will be hurdles right away. You will often ask yourself what are you doing wrong and how can you make things better. You will get frustrated with them not listening to you just because you are not ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’. Ultimately, it all comes down to treating your stepchildren with love and kindness, trying your best not to lose your mind when they reject every attempt of yours to get close to them. Remember that you are not the only one who is going through a new life phase and needs to adapt – for them, having step parents is also new territory. At first, they are not sure what do you want and might even feel afraid to get attached to you – after all, what guarantees that you are in for the long haul? All you can do is to simply tackle life as a step parent with…baby steps.

Are you a step parent? How did you manage to adjust to the new family dynamics?

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