How to Survive the Transition from Parent to Stepparent
Are you a biological parent that is about to become a stepparent? Perhaps you are a step parent that is about to become a new biological parent. Be forewarned, you and your family are about to undergo some serious changes. You can expect some discomfort and frustration, however it’s not all bad. In fact, the experience of blending your family does not have to feel as bad as people make it out to be.
As a family life coach, my clientele represents the diversity of stepfamilies. On any given day, I could see biological parents, step parents, adult stepchildren, blending grandparents, kids in transition, couples on the verge of divorce, premarital counseling…you get the point.
One of the major pains of blending a family is being unsure what their “new” role entails. My Role Redefining Program specifically solves this major yet common dilemma.
I don’t understand how a woman (BM) can be so disrespectful to a me (SM) who cares for her daughter when she is visiting her father in OUR home. Yet when my sons go visit their father, I want to make sure the trip is peaceful and I’m on the same page with those that are caring for my young kings… little does she know I’m making ALL of the plans anyway. I sometimes feel like as long as she doesn’t visualize me as SM with her ex-husband and their daughter in a happy space then she still has some control over him. It’s like they are in a bubble together and there’s no room for me to get in. It’s a mixture. That’s why I took a Nacho SM attitude I don’t want to be in it anymore. – Patricia F.
We know that there are 1300 new stepfamilies formed every day in this country and 50% of households have someone in them that is recoupled or remarried. With that being said, most people simply figure out the best way to co-exist, never truly becoming the best possible cohesive family unit that they can be.
Me and my husband parent my son (who lives with us) without any outside input. We have the exact same parenting style, views on religion, education, discipline, etc… we don’t have to compromise with people who don’t live in our home. As a SM, it’s the exact opposite and decision making is almost completely out of my reach. -Sarah Y.
I recently had a candid conversation with a group of adults that were both step parents and biological parents. The common theme amongst them was while they were innately comfortable in their biological parenting roles, step-parenting presents a level of hesitation, disappointment, frustration and anxiety.
I honestly hold my bio kids to a higher standard. SS gets away with a lot and I’m always hesitant in pointing out any of his wrong doings. (His mom is HC). I also get more embarrassed when he acts out in public or in front of my family. I feel like people watch me and wait for me to do something but I often shrug it off and talk to his dad about it later. Being a SM is a lot harder IMO. I’m both. And we don’t have and biological children together. -Jasmine K.
When an original family unit separates and a new one forms the the transitional period is usually very long and without structure. Family traditions are broken, people are still grieving and usually the family members are fighting to hold on to some sense of stability and normalcy.
I spent 5 years being a single mom so my son and I have a bond that I don’t think I’ll ever share with any other child I encounter. I can love him through his flaws and I know him top to bottom. -Anne R.
Here are a few of the key differences between biological parenting and step-parenting and how you can bridge the gap.
1. Change your pronouns
Instead of saying my partners kids, refer to the children as YOUR step or bonus kids. Acknowledging these children as a part of our own human experience, prohibits reluctant attachments. It’s also good for the children to hear you address them in a sense of belonging. I find that most hopeful step parents start off by referring to the children as MY bonus child, then they digress to calling the child a “step”, ultimately, they submit and totally separate and refer to the child as their parents’. This disengagement is usually the result of a High conflict biological parent, a passive partner or a disrespectful stepchild.
2. Respect and appreciate nature
As a biological parent, it’s easy to love your child without limitations. You are this child’s life guide and they love you with grace and constant admiration (until they’re teenagers). The most successful steparents recognize their position very early in the process. They do not feel guilty because they are not giving nor receiving unconditional love in their step-relationship. Usually when we feel guilty, we get defensive. This guilt-defense reaction is what sets an unhealthy tone in a step-relationship. You can alleviate this issue, by accepting that love may not be a part of the equation. It’s most important to base your step-relationship on boundaries, respect and compassion.
My bio kids just hold a different place in my heart. It’s easy to love them even when they are rude or do something I don’t like. Stepkids, it is not that easy. Loving them seems to be a challenge for me bc the little rude things they do rub me wrong. Sharing my love with sk does not come natural. It is super hard because I expect my steps to behave and act the same as my bio but I have to remember I didn’t raise them. With my bio I can just express how I am feeling when they do something I like or don’t like. With the stepkids I tend to beat around the bush or worry about saying something bc I don’t know how he or BM will respond. -Carolynn A.
3. Don’t allow a High conflict biological parent to ruin the peace in your world
This is easier said than done because HCBP (high conflict biological parents) tend to use their children as repositories for their own pain. They are unable to separate themselves from their child, thus enmeshing themselves to the child in a very unhealthy manner. Aside from the stress from the HCBP, now you must deal with a child that has taken on their parents’ negative attitude towards you. This is called alienation and its very common. Even healthy parents may unknowingly alienate a child against a coparent or stepparent. The easiest way to regain your peace of mind is to recognize the limitations of the HCBP and be aware that you must adjust to their mood swings. Learn to isolate a HCBP. Send them straight to voicemail, end hostile conversations, do not engage in unproductive text threads. Block them if you must. As a coparent or a stepparent, you are not required to deal with disrespect. And by no means should you ever negotiate with a terrorist.
4. Give it time Stepparent
While I do not believe that time heals ALL wounds, it does play a key role in accepting that our reality may not have always aligned with our expectations. An emotionally intelligent person acknowledges that they can only control themselves and their household.
5. You are not obligated to love your stepkids, but you are responsible for showing them love
Children can feel tension. Be mindful of the fact that the kids did not ask to be in the middle of adult drama, yet they are the ones who are most severely affected. Kids thrive on stability so witnessing the hardships of blending deeply affects their psyche and makes them feel unsafe and displaced. Too often, we adults forget that children feel a major sense of loss when their original family separates and a new family forms. Their sense of belonging has been shaken up. Because their young minds are still being shaped, they lack the skills to properly communicate their fear causing them to act out in defiance. They may become very clingy or they could do the opposite and be timid and sullen. Show them affection and exhibit love. Allow them to trust you so that an organic bond can form over time.
6. Finally, be aware
Learn to recognize when you are reducing the childhood experiences of your biological children because their step sibling is not always present. I have seen many parents forgo family vacations because a stepchild is unable to attend. A blended family is unlike a tradition family. There are so may moving parts so not everyone will be able to have the exact same opportunities. Our biological or step child either has to be shuffled back and forth between two households or they must learn to accept a new sibling in their space. As the leaders of the household, make it your mission to ensure that any child that steps foot in your home is overwhelmed with feelings of love and acceptance. By any means, put on a happy front with all stepparents and coparents in your life. Show them that the adults in their life are a united front. Allow them to receive love from ALL of their parents.
Children that are allowed to love their stepparents and coparents without restrictions are ultimately more well-adjusted and more successful than children that are raised in under the pressure of insecure parents who relish in their victimhood and unresolved issues. Your children are either witnessing the drama or they feel the tolerance and maturity. Remember, you are their first example of grace and forgiveness.
If you are a Mom or Stepmom stuck in the web of toxicity, check out my book!