The Key To Stepparenting: Be Patient, It Takes Time

A relationship with a stepchild can be tricky, scary and infuriating. It can also be joyful, interesting and extremely fulfilling. I know because I’m a stepparent of two boys.

So here are some tips that can help you navigate being a stepparent and part of a blended family.

Reset your expectations

Understand and accept that being a stepfamily is a very different dynamic from what Patricia Papernow calls a “first-time family.”

“A stepparent enters as an outsider to an already established bond between the parent and child and an already established system,” Papernow says. “The other thing is that kids are hard-wired to connect to their parents. They often are not very interested…in having a stepparent come in and disrupt their lives.”

Be intentional about how you are going to enter your new family and your role in it

Stephanie Irby Coard is an associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She says learn all you can about your stepchildren and the preexisting family dynamics.

Coard says it’s important to have transparent discussions about the child’s history, including their temperament, personality and any special needs. All of this helps stepparents who are working to understand their stepchildren.

Relationships are at the heart of creating a blended family but they can take time to build

Starting with low-key, fun activities like going for ice cream or a hike can be a good place to begin building a relationship with the child, Kisha Batsuli says. But the biological parent should take the lead.

“It’s very important that [the biological parent] create that unity and that atmosphere that makes you feel safe, as well as the kids feel safe,” Batsuli says.”Once the parent initiates and forms that, then you can flow as you see fit.”

Be respectful to the other parent — especially in front of the children

“In the beginning, children often experience the addition of a new stepparent as a loss,” Papernow says. “It’s a loss of the parent’s attention. It’s a loss all over again of the original two parents. It’s often a lot of change.”

She says kids can also feel what’s called a “loyalty bind,” where the child may think, “if I care about my new stepmom, I’m disloyal to my mom.”

Let the biological parent deal with discipline

Papernow says it’s a common misconception that stepparents should be allowed to discipline the children and that the biological parent should back them up.

“It’s disastrous,” she says. “The research is very clear: Kids are not ready for a stepparent’s discipline until or unless that stepparent has formed a caring, trusting relationship with his or her stepchild.”

Don’t take things personally

Papernow remembers once she was talking to her teenage stepdaughter when her husband’s former spouse came over. “When his ex-wife walked in, his teenage daughter turned away from me and to her mother,” she says.

Papernow says she was surprised by how painful it felt: “It was just a few moments, but I could barely speak to her for a day or two.”

She says those are times to lean on your partner and share how you feel.

It can be challenging to be a stepparent, but remember the role is also filled with lots of joy. In fact, sometimes what you think are disadvantages can actually be helpful.

Excerpted from “The Key To Stepparenting: Be Patient, It Takes Time” from NPR‘s Life Kit. Read the full article online, or listen to the podcast:

Source: NPR | The Key To Stepparenting: Be Patient, It Takes Time, | © 2022 npr
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