Over the years I have worked with many blended families. In most cases both parents bring children into the mix and they are wanting guidance as to how to best blend their families and also to understand what their new roles are. Most adults understand that their role as a step-parent is different than that of a biological parent but they aren't sure how to handle some common situations. In today's notes, I will share some common situations and ways that other parents have successfully handled them.
I need help being a stepparent.
Over the past month I have been on a break. No fancy vacation just staying at home, being a mom, doing other fun things with content and video. My clients have been on their own now for a few weeks and I haven't heard from many people until today. I got a voicemail from Libby (a mom who I have been working with for just a few months) asking what she should do with her step kids this summer when they have them.
This is their second year as a blended family and last summer didn't go well. She had moody tweens in their rooms on iPads a lot and to her dismay not wanting to go to the pool or parks when she asked. Prior to school ending, we met to discuss how to make this summer better. We came up with goals she wanted to set. Libby wanted the kids to spend at least an hour outside each day, she also wanted the kids to do an hour of work each day and she wanted the to spend time with friends in person.
So when I listened to Libby's voicemail and heard the frustration in her voice I knew she needed reminders about her role as stepmother. Here were the top reminders that Libby and I discussed that helped her to get grounded again.
1) No matter what a stepparent does your stepchildren typically don't show that they value or appreciate you. Kids resent stepparents as they symbolize the ending of the chances of their parents reconciling.
2) There are three types of stepparent: primary, secondary or friend. Understand that you need to define which role you are taking, try to consistently stay in that role and know that if your role needs to shift after some time that it warrants a family discussion.
3) The role of secondary parent is the most common and most challenging. It means that you have all the parental responsibilities and duties of a parent yet very little authority to discipline or enforce consequences. This role often causes tension with your spouse as there are a lot of closed door arguments about rules and boundaries.
4) Competing with your spouses's ex is a common pitfall. Your role as the stepparent is to do your best to have a respectful relationship with the ex. The ability to coordinate visitations, holidays, school events and sports goes a long way to your role as trying to make your blended family as healthy as possible. Spending money, buying things or allowing them to eat treats does not actually help your relationship with your stepchildren in the long run.
5) Last but not least is being honest with your spouse about the differences in your parenting styles with your own kids. You spend a good deal of time parenting your own children along side your spouse who is parallel parenting their children. Oftentimes, you come together as stepparents with different rules and expectations. You also typically have different ages of kids so you wind up having school age, middle school and high school age kids all under the same roof. I find this to be the most common issue discussed in therapy- different rules for different sets of kids. Open communication that is non-judgmental is helpful with this issue.
What I advised Libby when she said that her stepchildren's parents don't seem as concerned as she is about summer was to go back to the basics. She thought about her role, her power, her ability to influence (which she does have some) and then her inability to make change. We talked about her being able to parent her kids with her values and that when she agreed to become a stepmother she agreed to join an existing family unit with it's own set of existing norms.
There is a great deal of compromise that comes along with being a stepparent. It is certainly not an easy job but with open communication, clear roles, and reasonable expectations your blended family can live in peace and acceptance.