The Do’s And Don’ts Of Being A Step-parent

Parenting is no small feat and that’s something that practically every parent can attest to. Most couples will spend months or even years preparing to have children, priming themselves psychologically, emotionally, and practically to commence such a major undertaking. However, this preparation time is not always afforded to everyone who may need to step up to the plate of raising a child, and this is especially true of step-parents.

Many find themselves having to accept the responsibility of being involved in their partner’s children’s lives as part of their relationship with them and this can be challenging for obvious reasons. However, not all step-parent and step-child relationships need be tenuous as there are ways to build a healthy, positive rapport that can last a life-time if one avoids making some common mistakes.

Knowing One’s Place

One of the biggest errors that step-parents can make is trying to act as if they themselves are the child’s primary parent. However, it is important to remember that prior to one’s involvement with a step-child, they will have already created a strong, fundamental bond with their biological parents that constitutes the child’s ‘core family’ in their mind. Trying to infiltrate this inner circle will be interpreted as invasive and an unwelcome advance from the child’s point of view, as this kind of intimate connection cannot be forced. Instead, step-parents should aim to foster a genuine friendship with their step-children in the hopes that this may naturally deepen over time.

It’s Not a Competition

A step-parent should never try to compete with or ‘one up’ their step-child’s biological parent in an attempt to have a stronger bond with the child. Unfortunately, adults who suffer from insecurity complexes and a tendency to be needy can easily fall into this trap because of their desire to gain acceptance or ‘prove their worth’. However, this kind of behaviour can significantly damage their relationship with their partner by eroding trust and transparency in dealing with their child. Instead, step-parents should aim only to complement or assist with the biological parent’s parenting, instead of attempting to improve upon or replace it.

There’s Always History

It’s important that step-parents make efforts not to allow their partner and his or her children’s history with their ex-partner to affect them. This can be hard as step-parents may find themselves feeling excluded from the ‘original family unit’ when they are not privy to the same narratives and experiences. However, accepting that their partner and their step-children had a life before them is crucial to developing a healthy dynamic. Step-parents can always learn more about this history through occasional and tactful questioning that isn’t too invasive or forward, as children may not always want to discuss their past with a new adult in the picture.

Putting the Child First

The primary cornerstone for the success of a step-parent and step-child relationship is undoubtedly the prioritisation of the child’s needs – this being alike to any good parenting strategy. It can be challenging in blended family contexts to keep one’s emotions in check when any kind of friction arises, even for an adult. However, a good step-parent will always endeavour to lead with an attitude of selflessness when dealing with their step-child, understanding that they are automatically held to a higher standard of emotional control and maturity as an adult. The child’s feelings therefore need largely to take precedence over their own in most circumstances and so learning to act in the child’s best interests is essential.

Should You Formalise Your Relationship?Looking After Oneself

As seen above, the demand of step-parenting is certainly high and so remembering to look after one’s own emotional and mental wellbeing in the process is key for step-parents. No adult is a perfect beacon of maturity and self-control and so taking necessary steps to manage the stress and fatigue that can arise from being in this position will empower the step-parent to succeed in their new role. Simple things like exercise, socialising, and effective communication with their partner will go a long way to this end.

At Grayfords, we understand how difficult it is to navigate changing family dynamics and our solicitors have a wealth of experience in a multitude of family matters – from divorce and child arrangements to injunctions and financial settlements. If you currently find yourself in a challenging situation with your family or with a partner, don’t hesitate to reach out and book your free consultation today to find out more about how we can help.

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