Marrying the love of your life is always exciting. And while it’s very possible to achieve happiness, giving up your single life is a huge adjustment. Becoming a stepparent at the same time can make the challenges even greater.
Consider these 5 tips to help you adjust.
1. Don’t Assume You Know How to Stepparent
While you may be eager to assume a parenting role, keep in mind that you’ve remained single up to this point and you probably know very little about day-to-day demands that most children make on parents.
Although you may have spent nights or weekends together, everyone in the home still has to adjust once you move in, and this change probably won’t happen overnight. It will take time for the children and your spouse to adjust to seeing you there every day and adjusting to your new stepparent role.
Even though you’ve already spent time with the children, once you move in each one will require different parenting approaches and each may want their own unique relationship with you.
Boys and girls have different emotional, relational and psychological needs and this varies depending on their age. Depending on their age, it’s normal for stepchildren to expect you to understand what they need and to provide it. You can help them (and yourself) realize that this will take time.
2. Be Consistent with Your Partner on House Rules
As it is with most parents, it’s important that you and your spouse agree on house rules and how these will be enforced. It helps if both of you, together, meet with the children and make sure everyone understands boundaries and consequences. Your spouse needs to clarify to the kids when you have full authority to set limits and when you can discipline them. Children have a unique talent of trying to ‘split’ parents, and clarifying rules and boundaries up front can help prevent this.
For example, let’s say your spouse isn’t home and the house rule is lights are out by 10 PM. The kids may try complaining that the other parent let them stay up later. If you and your spouse have agreed to the rules and to your authority to enforce them, the children will learn that just because you’re new doesn’t mean you can be taken advantage of.
3. Accept that You Will Make Mistakes
Welcome to parenting. No stepparent is perfect, ever! This goes for you too.
Be patient. No one expects you to immediately know what they need from you, in the same way you don’t expect this from them. Be comfortable knowing that you will make many mistakes at first, but be willing to learn from them. After all, this is a new life experience for you.
For instance, let’s say that you have an argument with one of your stepchildren. Once the situation has passed, reflect on what you could have done better. If possible, talk it through with the child, and make it a point to talk to your spouse. Was there something you could have done to avoid escalating the argument? Regardless of the outcome, the child and your spouse will probably welcome your efforts.
4. Ask for Help
Parenting can be a joy, but it’s hard work. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help as you learn to navigate your new role. Keep in mind that you don’t have to figure this out on your own. You will find that there are many people struggling with the same issues as you.
Begin with educating yourself to the demands of being a stepparent. Read stepparent self-help books. Ask your spouse or family or friends, and if it’s appropriate, ask the children.
The kids will appreciate your efforts. If they see you reading about being a stepparent, this can be an opportunity to start a conversation.
5. Create Something New
While you and your partner work to create a new family, consider creating new family traditions. Traditions help to solidify relationships between people. They also help to build a culture. This is true for a family as well as a whole society.
Some ideas for creating new family traditions include:
- Doing something new for the holidays
- Playing board games once a week
- Attend sporting events
- Going on a weekend family vacation
- Celebrating birthdays
- Let the kids take turns selecting a weekly activity.
What If You’re Still Struggling with Being a Stepparent?
If this happens, it may be that your childhood experiences are affecting you. If, for example, you have any unmet emotional needs from your childhood you may expect your new family to help you with these. One way this can happen is if you were lonely as a child, and now you want the stepchildren to be your friend. Or an argument between the children can trigger memories of difficult times you had with your siblings.
It may be that you feel okay about yourself but you’re still you’re struggling with adjustment to becoming a stepparent. If so, consider seeing a professional therapist. Not only can you work through unresolved issues about your own life, therapy is a safe place to vent your frustrations. Let’s face it, children can be frustrating!
Adjusting from single life to being a stepparent can be very challenging. If you’re struggling or you’re simply not sure what to do, a few counseling sessions can make things a lot easier with. I’m here to help if you need it.
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