As a therapist I have a unique perspective of being a stepdaughter, step-mom, and working with blended families. My biological parents lived on opposite sides of the country and from the time I was three years old I traveled back and forth for visitation with my father. In my childhood I saw firsthand the development of the dynamics that exist between the stepparent and stepchild dyad. The result of these relationships have had many lasting effects in my life. When I first met my husband, my stepdaughter was 10 years old. We have been married for over 13 years and we have two sons together. There were most certainly some challenges a long the road of step-parenting, especially in the beginning. I feel fortunate to have had a lot of support from my husband to be a successful step-mom. He was always there to bounce ideas off of and I felt he respected my best judgment in given circumstances. Most importantly, we presented to our family as a united front in our decision making process. After fourteen years, I consider my stepdaughter and I to have a close relationship. She feels safe to be candid in what is going on in her daily life. I continue to support her in her efforts and pursuits in her life.
Many of my clients ask what kind of role should I take as a stepparent? They ask, “Am I a friend, a disciplinarian, confidant, or supporter?” I think it’s a good idea for the stepparent and biological parent to sit down and discuss fears, responsibilities, and expectations in regards to the relationship with the children. Identifying what both partners agree on first is a great start. Next, start looking at compromising on other aspects of the role of co-parenting. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide what you are comfortable with. The following are my suggestions for what has worked in my own household and what I have witnessed work in my clients lives.
1. In my experience, I feel it is important to defer the discipline to the biological parent. In some circumstances it may be appropriate for the stepparent to take on the disciplinarian role. For example, if the children are very young when entering into the relationship. Some of the consequences of becoming a disciplinarian could be resentment by your partner and not establishing a healthy trusting bond with your step-children. I think there is validity in making sure the children are abiding by the rules of the house and also supporting your partner in their effort to manage the household.
2. Although the stepparent may not be actively initiating discipline, it does not mean there are no boundaries in the relationship. Staying true to normal boundaries that exist between adult and child should be maintained. It may be the biological parent giving the consequences for the misbehaving conduct. However, the stepparent is active and supporting their partner with the decision of the consequence. The stepparent should be acknowledged as a parental figure with authority in the household even though they are not enforcing the discipline in the home.
3. It is important to avoid talking negatively about the parent whom is no longer living in the home. This is a rule that both parents should hold true too. As a stepparent it would be helpful to facilitate a supportive relationship with the biological parent no longer living in the home. Even though this may be hard, stepparents should put any jealously or resentment to the side to become a positive force in the family. Ultimately, this will help build trust and respect for all involved.
4. You may be in a parenting situation where both you and your spouse are bringing children into the family. Make sure you are not seen as choosing favorites, such as doing activities with only your biological children. Family activities should be all inclusive. Money, time, and activities should be equal, especially in the beginning when you are bonding and building trust within the family unit.
5. I think it’s important to verbally express your needs in the family. Do not assume others will know what your needs are. For example, if you feel you or your children are being excluded from activities simply make a request, rather than complain or become resentful.
In summary, I hope this insight is helpful. I think communicating in the early onset, defining roles, and frequently doing check-in’s with the family is helpful. If you are open-minded and have a loving heart, becoming a stepparent can be a fruitful experience.