When you fall in love with someone who has children, things soon get complicated. He wants to go out, but he has the kids this weekend. Do you mind if they tag along? You make reservations for a weekend away, but her babysitter gets sick. You are looking forward to a romantic dinner for two, but suddenly you’re a party of three, and one of them is pouting because he doesn’t want anything to do with you.
There ought to be a rule book for stepparents*, especially childless stepparents who have no experience raising kids. How do you love the children and keep the romance going? What do you do when you see them going wrong but your partner, their actual mom or dad, doesn’t seem to notice? When conflicts arise, is he going to choose you or his kids?
What should they call you?
On my wedding day, my oldest stepson said, “I guess I should call you Mom now.” I replied, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” He didn’t want to. He and his siblings call me Sue.
What are the rules?
A podcast I listened to last week offered some good answers. Brittany Lynch, a Certified Stepfamily Counselor who calls herself the Stepqueen, welcomed stepparenting coach Kristen Skiles to talk about the challenges of stepparenting. Skiles said she had always wanted to have children of her own and did not want to date single dads, but she fell for Kevin and he came with a little girl. Over the years that followed, she learned some lessons she shared with the listeners. Her comments were addressed to women but could easily be turned around for men
*Too many of us go into the relationship believing we have to become THE MOM, filling the ex-wife’s role when she’s not around. Instead we should stepparent however it feels comfortable for us, whether it’s playing the “fun auntie” role or something else. But we are not and cannot be their parent. Create for yourself a role that fits with your lifestyle and values.
* Your main job is loving your partner. Don’t neglect him or her to focus on the kids. Your partner is the reason you have these kids in your life.
* Set boundaries. It’s okay to step back and let the biological parents handle some of the problems.
* Build your self-esteem. Becoming a stepparent can make you doubt your abilities and your place in the family, but you are still you and you belong.
* Keep doing the things you love. Don’t give up everything until all you have left is the kids.
Kristen, where were you when I was actively stepparenting and blowing it?
These recommendations may seem selfish. I think they’re wise. If you become a frantic shell trying to please children who respond with, “You’re not my mom and I don’t have to listen to you,” that’s not going to help anyone. Nor do you want to get caught between your spouse and his/her kids, feeling like you have no one on your side.
Going crazy with the stepkids?
Listen to Brittany Lynch’s Queen of Your Castle podcast, episode 59.
Visit Kristen Skiles’ website, stepmomming.com, where you will find her blog, helpful resources, more advice, and a free ebook, Becoming a Co-Parenting Champion.
*Check out The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stepparenting by Ericka Lutz.
What do you think of these tips? What is your advice for stepparents or potential stepparents?