For most kids, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “stepparent” is Snow White’s or Cinderella’s evil stepmother. From their youngest age, children are only introduced to this kind of relationship, so it’s no wonder they very often refuse to even try to make it work. No one tells them that there are stepparents who don’t mind you being prettier, or those who won’t make you sleep on the floor next to the fireplace.
Parenting itself is challenging enough, but trying to take a place in already existing family is even harder. But, just like everything else in life, after defeating the obstacles, the rewards are amazing. If you decided to take this big step in your life and become a part of someone else’s, here is what you need to know.
So, let’s start with the struggles you’ll probably meet on this journey and some advice on how to cope with them.
1. You will never be the “real” one.
You need to make peace with this fact. You can never (nor should you try to) replace the actual parent. It just won’t work. Even if the kids tell you that they think of you as mom, even if they call you “dad,” don’t make a mistake and think they will ever love you the way they love their parents—even if they are not around often, even if they aren’t really good parents.
Biology did its thing and the child will always feel connected to their parents. That may mean they will resent you at the beginning, or feel that their parents’ separation is your fault, but don’t blame them. Be consistent and try very hard and eventually you too will have a place in their heart.
2. You will have a hard time making the kids listen to you.
Even though you know that you deserve respect, you may find that your stepchildren don’t feel the same way. You are new to the family, and from their perspective, you don’t belong there. This may be the reason they deliberately ignore your requests, act in the most bratty way, or talk behind your back. Putting things in order will be hard, and you will need to be firm and fair to earn their respect.
Try to make them listen, try showing them that you are there and don’t plan to leave, but also be careful not to overstep. Leave the punishments to your new spouse at least for the beginning and try different approaches, such as helping when they are in trouble, talking to them when they are upset etc.
3. You may have problems with the “ex.”
Whether he/she is there constantly or just occasionally, chances are they won’t like you, and they’ll like the fact you spend so much time with their kids even less. They may even try to turn them against you and there is very little you can do about it. All you can do is try to make the young ones like you for who you are by showing them that you have no intention replacing their parent, and that you just want to be their friend.
4. You may not love the children the way you think you should.
Since you are not biologically connected, you may at some point realize that you just find them awfully annoying (especially if they refuse to take you seriously). Keep in mind that you will never be more important to your loved one than their kids and also remember that they are your new family. You will be staying that way for quite some time, so you might as well invest in the relationship and try to see their good sides—just like what you expect them to do about you. How about taking them for a trip—just you and them—maybe go to the cinema or the local zoo and spend time alone, giving each other chance to grow positive feelings about each other.
As hard as the downsides of step parenting may be, the rewards you get are sure to overcome them, and here is what you can expect once things are finally in order.
5. You get all the joys of having children, even if they aren’t biologically yours.
If they are young, it’s stuff like reading them a good-night book, baking cookies together, getting them ready for school, teaching them the important stuff etc. If they are older, it’s seeing them off to prom, talking about boys (or girls), taking them shopping and so on. They will love you for it, and you will feel accomplished in a way only a parent can.
6. You will feel unimaginable happiness when they come to you for advice.
After the rough road, you finally managed to form some kind of a relationship with your stepchild—and now, they need your help. Whether it is a girl-to-girl talk about boys or just help with your stepsons homework, it feels amazing, as if you finally broke through the great wall of ignoring (and maybe a bit of resentment too) and got straight to heaven. Try to justify their trust and it will improve your relationship even more. Just be careful not to end up in between your spouse and the kids if they ask you to keep something a secret. Balance!
7. You will want your kids and your step kids to get along.
Assuming you have your own kids, that is. And if they do get along, there is no better thing in the world. That means you are actually a family now. They may not consider each other siblings yet, but being friends is a great start. Now you can go to real family camping trips, or maybe all the children will go to the prom together. And that is when you will feel the most accomplished!
8. Your efforts WILL pay off.
It may be hard at the beginning (it probably will be) but then there will be a day your stepdaughter introduces you to her friends, or when your stepson invites you to see him play a football game. They will accept you for who you are and they will come to love you. All it takes is patience and courage, and the results will dazzle you!