And at times, one of the most vital.
A lot of it depends on the context of how the children met you. How long you have been in their lives. How old they were when the divorce occurred. How amicable or non-amicable the divorce is.
You fall in love with one another as adults. Jane and John. Woman and man. It’s heaven on earth.
Then you watch Jane with her children. You notice that Jane allows her children to do stuff that you would never allow your children to do. She has a 18 year-old son that has never had a job, eats everything in the house and smells like weed. A 16 year-old daughter that is good in school and works, but is flippant and bossy. Well, that’s not a big deal. Until you are living with Jane and her children. You get angry at the way they treat her. And Jane gets defensive.
You absolutely adore John. His kids live in another city. He and his wife had a horrible divorce. He says she found a way to hurt him by moving his kids. They bicker constantly. When his 3 kids come for breaks, he spoils them. Takes time off work to be with them, which isn’t normal. Even though they are 13, 12, and 10, they don’t help out when they are there. Stay on their cell phones. Show absolutely no interest in having a relationship with you.
John seems oblivious. “Go with the flow, they are only here for two weeks”.
There are many mistakes you can make. Here are the ones I see the most.
1) Jumping in too fast as an authority.
If you and your new spouse dated for quite a while and let the children get to know you, then step parenting can be smooth sailing. Quite a while, meaning years. Children, especially younger ones, with enough time, often welcome a new adult into their world who wants to love them well. However, many adults rush the process, only giving their kids a few weeks or months to make a transition from “me and your mom” to “me and your new mom”.
This sets up the new stepparent for failure. You are there in the home. But you haven’t earned the respect that goes along with being an authority figure. You don’t have that child’s trust, simply because his mother or father loves you. You have to wait.
Give your opinion to the biological parent while not putting up with disrespect. Work on developing a relationship. As much as you might care, the healthiest thing to do is support the person you love.
2) Seeing the kids as an extension of the ex.
“I bet she told her to say that to me.” Or “The only reason she’s doing that is because her mother hates me, and she knows it.” Sadly, it could be true. The child may have heard the ex talking about you. She may be stuck in the middle of an ugly adult situation that she did not choose. You will only make it worse by not understanding how difficult that may be for her.
Try to make it easier by not putting her in the middle.
You always put your kids to bed by having a set time every night. The light is turned off, prayers are said, kisses and out you go. Your new spouse, on the other hand, doesn’t have a set bedtime. It could be 8 one night, 9 the next. He believes that there should be some time that they have to just relax and be on their cell phones or get some last minute studying done. Then, if they want, a little talking or reading, Then lights out. It’s all kind of spontaneous.
You decide that his kids are spoiled and needy. He tells you that you have a rigid approach. Old school.
You obviously have different parenting styles. It’s best to leave the kids out of it. And try to decide how you are going to respect each other, now that you are one family.
That can take some adjusting. Time to decide how this new combined family is going to tackle things.
4) Discounting the impact of an affair.
Usually the person who has an affair will say, “Oh the kids will be great. They will accept Jane or John,” trying to minimize in his or her own mind the difficulty of divorce on a family. And the feelings of not just grief but replacement that your ex will have to deal with. If you marry, and especially quickly marry, the person that you had an affair with during your marriage, realize that it may take a fair amount of time for your family to accept him or her.
It can really be complicated and hurtful when grandchildren become a part of it. Perhaps are withdrawn because of Granddad or Grandmama leaving and marrying someone else.
On a happier note. I have talked with many people through the years who have told me that it was a stepparent who made their life complete. Who walked them down the aisle when their own biological father had abandoned them long ago. Who sat and listened to them when their bio mom was drunk in a bar somewhere.
[tweetthis]Stepparents can be awesome. Because their love is a choice.[/tweetthis]
There may be no more important gift to give.
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Photos courtesy Deborah Strauss.