Regrettably, many stepfathers are compared to movie and TV villains. For instance, there are the Stepfather movies I, II, III and now there’s the Showtime series Dexter. Dexter is a psychotic police blood splatter expert who’s a stepdad and serial killer. In the media, the criminal behavior of the 1% helps to foster further the unsavory reputation of stepdads in general. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case for your new blended family. As a new stepdad, you will have to be careful about how you come across to your new stepchildren from the very beginning. Sometimes, stepdads tend to try too hard, which may be viewed negatively by the kids. Other times, because you fear rejection and are being reserved and cautious you may be perceived as unconcerned and uncaring. Since this is a difficult situation for everyone involved and as the adult you are expected to take the lead, there are common mistakes you might not be aware of. Here are three common stepparenting mistakes you should watch out for:
Forcing Your Way of Doing Things
There is a natural tendency for stepfather’s to have behavioral expectations based on their own parenting experience and/or what you feel is the “right way” to do things. You may also want to let your new family know there’s a “new sheriff” in town. Put yourself in your stepchildren’s shoes. How easy would it be for you to adjust to this new Dad and his rules? Remember your wife’s family operation was running before you entered the picture. Take it slow, it’s not easy to suddenly insist on your own rules and ways of doing things when your stepchildren have not grown up with you and do not know you very well. As a stepparent, there are different ways you can take when developing a bond with your new stepchildren. For example, striking up little conversations with the kids on their interests and activities even if they seem unresponsive or hostile. Whatever you do don’t try to force a relationship. The newlywed parents should address any concerns the kids may have about their new family. Ideally, the groundwork for this should be laid before the marriage. Involve the children as much as possible in the creation of the new family. The Pretty Lady’s children and I had participated in several sessions of family counseling before we said, “I do.” I also babysitted them on several occasions before we were married giving them an opportunity for them to know me one on one. Work with your wife to create an environment of safety and trust where the children can express confidently express their feelings and be heard. Listening to the children may be all that’s needed to diffuse a situation. In some instances, kids may not voice their concerns out of fear of retaliation from the new parent or their new siblings. This is why it is essential all parties feel they are respected and able to voice their feelings freely.
Not Partnering with Your Spouse
Stepdads may already have an idea of how they will introduce themselves and incorporate their role into the new blended family. Be patient and don’t jump into things. Early on, take the time, to observe and see how things work in your new family. Work with your wife to ensure you and her on the same page regarding parenting. Some critical questions you should answer.
- What are your parenting styles; authoritarian, authoritative or permissive?
- If your styles are different, how will you blend them to provide the children with consistency and unity?
- How will disciplined by handled?
- How do they communicate?
Again, conversations to answer these questions can and should begin before saying, “I do.” These are just some questions you should address. Remember you and your wife are a team and your approach to parenting should be as a team. Make sure you both have a clear understanding of your game plan if there are areas of conflict. Also, if they’re older children include them in coming up with the house rules and what could be the consequence when these rules are violated.
Being Negative on Your Spouse’s Ex
If you find yourself angry at your wife’s former partner or are feeling bitter and uncomfortable whenever there is mention of the past relationship, you must start learning to let go and move forward. Keep the past where it belongs – in the past. Keep in mind even though you try hard not to show your feelings, the children may feel your anger and resentment when their dad is brought into the conversation. Never badmouth their dad even if they are the ones who start saying negative things. It is also a big no-no to emphasize what your wife’s ex did wrong in the house before or with rearing the children. When you suggest your own rules and come up with activities, do not compare these things with how things used to be done by the ex. You also don’t need to make your stepchildren side with you. There are no sides to be taken. Their biological parent remains their dad, and you should not even attempt to take that away. Cultivating a relationship with your stepchildren’s dad will go a long way in eliminating any loyalty conflicts your children may be experiencing.
Even in the best unions, blended families like their nuclear counterparts will have their share of problems. The problems will be just different. This shouldn’t be looked at as a disaster but rather as an opportunity to sit down as a family and discuss what’s not working also the possible ways to change them in order to suit everybody’s needs. And even if that’s not possible, at least everyone will feel as though they were important, and respected enough, to have their feelings addressed. It takes time for blended families to bond, and a blended family is always a work in progress, even under the best of circumstances. When weeks or months have passed without a glitch, and everything has run smoothly, then it should be a time for a family celebration! Whether it is a movie or game night or a huge family dinner, the purpose is to celebrate a milestone of building your new family. No one said it would be easy, and even if things still aren’t perfect, it would help to take a step back and let everyone see the progress you have made as a family-no matter how small.