10 Ways to Nurture Your Role as a Stepparent

HandsThis week as part of our ongoing ’10 Ways to’ parenting tips series, we explore stepparenting. Television shows like The Brady Bunch or Modern Family might make it seem as though it’s pretty much all plain sailing but this is usually not the case. Being a stepparent can be a very difficult role within the family. The level of complexity it brings to the family and the individual is often underestimated by every family member. However, with patience and commitment, the rewards can be immense. Read on for our advice for stepparents on this important role.

  1. If you are the stepparent, talk with your partner about parenting. Understand very clearly how they parent and why they do it this way. Before you can actively start to support the parenting of their children, you need to agree together on the style of parenting which is comfortable for you both.
  2. Talk with your partner about his/her children and the role s/he wants as a parent of them. It is very important to accept that children are not going anywhere; can you have a relationship with your partner and his/her children, are you ready for the challenge? Are you ready to share this person with other very important people, their children? Are you ready and aware that your partner will always have to maintain a relationship with their child’s other biological parent?
  3. Talk with the children about the type of relationship they would like to have with you. If children are quite young, then you will most likely have to be an active stepparent when they are in your care and that of their biological parent.
  4. Explore with children what this will be like for them. You will most likely be moving from being their friend who does not interfere to a new active parenting role. Children can be very confused by this.  Explore feelings for everyone in the family. Talk with children and with each other about the challenges.
  5. Having family meetings can be key to a happy home. Involve children in planning, talk with them about issues and problems. Enable them to have a voice and a part in implementing new ways of living together.
  6. Children don’t like having too many people tell them what they can and cannot do. Talk with children about respect for everyone in the family and set ground rules around respect for each family member.
  7. Children can be very lucky to have a stepparent, another person who is there for them to support them and help them through the challenges of childhood.  However, building a very close relationship with the child will take time so you will need to put effort into this. Children may or may not naturally like you. You may or may not like them initially. Bonds take time to develop. Be realistic and always be patient.
  8. It is usually very important for the stepparent to understand and empathise with the other biological parent. Try to understand what it is like for him or her. Appreciate what it is like for them having a stepparent with their children. Do you know their style of parenting, can you talk with them about the children to help you understand each child and how they respond to discipline? Respect the child’s other parent always and value their role as the biological parent of your stepchildren.
  9. If all three parents can sit together a couple of times a year and talk about the children, what each person’s role is and how the children are coping with living within a stepparent family, everyone will benefit. Remember that children are central to harmony and the focus is on keeping them at the centre of parenting. If children are happy, then usually parents are happy.
  10. If you are not happy in your role as a stepparent, then you need to start talking. Are you confused about your role? You may not be a parent already and now you have children who already have two parents whom you have to try and understand and parent also. This is very challenging. You should not think it is easy, it will be a constant challenge, so allow yourself opportunities to discuss your concerns with a close friend. You can also seek professional support. It can be very helpful to take a parenting course so you can learn some key skills and insight into children, and how to identify their needs. Hopefully with your partner’s support, you can meet each child’s needs as well as your own.

Next you might like to read 10 Ways to Sensitive Integration of a Stepparent.

This article is part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips, and is by One Family’s Director of Children and Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly. Coming soon:  10 Ways to Make Christmas Stress Free and 10 Ways to Create Family Traditions at Christmas.

LIVE Facebook Q&A with Geraldine on stepparenting on Monday 15 December from 11am-12pm on One Family’s Facebook page. Join in and post your question.

Find out more about our parenting skills programmes and parent supports. For support and advice on these or any related topics, call askonefamily on lo-call 1890 66 22 12 or email support@onefamily.ie.