Love and respect is earned from a child, not demanded.
If you're thinking of marrying someone with kids, or if you've got kids and you're getting married, your kids are going to gain a stepparent. Blended families are challenging and cause stress on your marriage.
However, here are five rules for being a stepparent that help improve harmony in both your marriage and your blended family:
1. A stepparent is NOT the parent. A stepparent is a "bonus" parent in a child's life. As a bonus parent, giving gifts in an effort to buy a child's affection will not gain the status of new best friend. Your role is as another safe adult for the child to interact with. Your job is to model healthy life perspectives that complement those of their biological parents.
2. A stepparent co-creates the rules for their house with their spouse (the child's parent). By co-creating the rules and supporting each other in their enforcement, you avoid becoming the evil stepparent. You'll also create a home that you and your spouse will enjoy.
3. You can—and should—expect respect from the child, and show respect as well. As in any relationship, there will be times of struggle in the stepparent/stepchild relationship. Mutual respect is at the base of the best relationships. A stepparent/stepchild relationship needs mutual respect, too; but the onus for initial respect is on YOU. By respecting the child as an individual with likes, dislikes, opinions, emotions and a need to have alone time with each of their biological parents, you'll model and teach a respect which might (if you're lucky) grow into mutual love over time.
4. Show respect to their other parent. Never, EVER, speak poorly of the child's other parent with even the slightest possibility of the child overhearing. Never allow anyone else (including your spouse) to speak poorly of the child's other parent, either. Children love both of their parents. Part of your job is to encourage this love, regardless of your personal feelings. Kids also know they're like both of their parents; if they hear you disparaging their other parent, they'll see it as an attack on that parent, as well as an attack on them.
5. Your role is to give support, not direction (unless explicitly requested) to the biological parents. No matter how much you grow to love your stepchild, you will never know the full love and corresponding responsibility of being their biological parent. The biological parents are the ultimate rule-makers for the child. Your job is to support your spouse in helping to raise the child into a happy, healthy, contributing adult.
Honestly, these five rules for stepparenting are just the tip of the iceberg. Being a stepparent is a challenge, but has potential for tremendous rewards. By following these rules, you'll have a solid foundation for navigating the challenges, so you can reap the rewards—a harmonious blended family AND a happy marriage.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.