My husband has a beautiful daughter named Emily. She just turned 12 in January. I have been a part of her life for the last 10 years. I had children of my own when my husband and I first got married. I say that in the past tense because they didn’t leave the planet or anything, they grew up and moved out. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years about being a step-parent.
The most important thing about making a blended family work is to treat all the children involved equally. None of “this is my kid- that is your kid” stuff. They are all kids and that is the way it is. Same set of rules, same set of punishments and the same set of rewards. For instance if you allow one kid to play baseball, they should all have the chance to do something. Don’t show favoritism, it’s hurtful.
There is an excellent chance that one or more kids are only in the home part time. Most custody agreements are joint custody so the child (or children) is in between ‘worlds’ all week long.
Work on communicating with the other parent about what their house rules are and enforce them at your house too. Communication with the other parent is imperative to keeping stability in an unstable situation. If you need a mediator to do that, then do it for the sake of the child.
“If you’re grounded here, you’re grounded there.”
3) No Games-
It’s not fair to the child if you play the game of “Well, mom won’t let me do that but dad will.” It’s easy to fall into that because being a part-time parent, you want to be the hero. In the short term you might be but in the long run your just hurting the child. If bedtime at mom’s house is 9:00, then it should be at your house too.
I’m not saying let the other parent call all the shots. Work something out together with the other parent. Find out what goes on and come to an agreement on how to raise the child. Even if you had an ugly separation or divorce, find a way to communicate on raising the child for the sake and sanity of the child.
4) Ditch the ‘step’-
Is it really necessary to call a child a step? Are you going to walk up them? If people really need to know that bad- you can say ‘this is my husbands/wife’s child’. Don’t stick a label on them like they are a banana.
5) “You’re not my mom”-
Don’t force a child to call you mom or dad if you are not their mom or dad. Let them decide what they want to call you. Emily calls me Robin. When she was little, she used to call me Wobin. I miss that. She could have called me whatever she wanted to though. She has a mom, I’m never going to try and replace her. I play the mother roll when she is with us but that still doesn’t mean she has to call me that.
If the other parent is completely out of the picture and the child wants to call you mom or dad (whichever gender fits you) that’s fine – only if it’s what they want to do.
6) If you can’t say something nice-
Never, ever under any circumstances whatsoever- no matter how mad you are- say something mean and rotten about the other parent if the child is within earshot or even in the same zip code as you are. Honestly, if the child hears you say something bad about their other parent, all you are doing is hurting the child. The other parent can’t hear you and probably could care less about what you have to say.
Stop and think before you open your mouth. It’s better if you have something nice to say about the other parent because it makes the child feel good. That parent is part of that child. If you say something mean, the child is going to take that personally.
I’m lucky on that one. Emily’s mom is one of my closest friends. Still, even if she wasn’t, I would never say something bad about her in front of Emily because I know it would destroy her inside.
7) Love ya, mean it-
Simple as that- love the child. Kids suck up love like a sponge. It may take some time for the child to get used to you being in the picture- especially if they are older and didn’t want their parents to split up.
Give them time to mourn the loss of their past life that was ripped away and changed forever without their permission or consent. Understand that they aren’t blaming you (even if they say it) they are just hurting and need time to adjust to have two separate worlds now.
You can blend a family and make it work. You just need to put the effort into it. Just because you are a step-mother doesn’t mean you are evil. That is just a bunch of fairy tales profiling us and it’s wrong!
Sources: Personal experience