Step parenting brings its own special problems as the new step parent is often caught in the middle between the biological parent and the children. Just how much of a problem you will encounter depends upon a whole variety of factors, not the least of which will be the degree of co-operation you receive from the biological parent and the ages of the children involved.
The secret to successful step parenting lies first in clearly establishing your role with the biological parent because you will certainly have an uphill struggle if the two of you are not fully in agreement from the outset. As with any changes in a relationship though you must also realize that adjustments will take time and you need to adopt a ‘step by step’ approach. Any attempt to rush things, or to force the situation, will undoubtedly lead to frustration, if not confrontation. The biological parent may well feel threatened, if only sub-consciously, by the need to share parenting and will need time to adjust and to develop confidence and trust in you as a parent to his or her children.
Next, you will clearly need to establish your role with the children who, unless they are very young, will often resent being guided by an ‘outsider’. You will need to take things slowly and accept that the children will need time to adjust to the situation before they will accept you in the role of a parent. Once again, you will need the help of the biological parent in cementing your relationship with the children.
Any successful transition into step parenting must start with a clear and frank discussion with the biological parent, during which each party must communicated freely and honestly about how they see their role, and that of the other party, and you must both reach a clear agreement on just how you should share the responsibilities of parenting. This discussion should also set clear boundaries but should be flexible enough to allow for adjustment, especially in the critical first few weeks and months following the establishment of this new relationship.
This initial discussion will not of course be the end of the matter and several such discussions will need to take place before any truly meaningful and lasting shift in parenting responsibilities can take place.
Once you are in agreement the next step is to bring the children on board and this step must initially be led by the biological parent. At an appropriate time the family should all sit down together and the biological parent should lead off a discussion in which the plan which you have agreed can be revealed to the children and discussed with them.
At this point it is important to emphasize that this should be a genuine discussion and not simply a case of the parents ‘laying down the law’ to the children. It is vitally important that the children contribute to the discussion and that their thoughts and views on what you have agreed be heard. Children, just like adults, need to be given a sense of control over their own lives and need to feel comfortable with the situation in which they now find themselves. This is not to say that the children should be given control of the situation, which should remain firmly in the hands of the parents as the ultimate decision makers within the household, but every effort should be made to ensure that they understand the situation and are as happy with it as is possible.
The simple fact that the children can see that their parents have clearly considered the position carefully, and are in agreement about it, will go a long way to preventing the children from playing one parent off against the other and their inclusion in the process will also help considerably in bringing them on board.
Arriving on the scene as a new step parent can be difficult for not only the step parent but for the biological parent and the children and all parties will need to work together slowly and take their time to establish an environment in which everyone can live happily together.