Step-parents inevitably become an important part of a child’s life. However in the early stages of building that relationship there are some common pitfalls and step-parents should tread carefully. Here are some top tips to avoid getting into a war with the child, your partner and the ex.
1. Bad-mouthing the ex
It can often be tempting, especially when your partner is in the grip of a divorce, to accidentally let slip a few harsh words about their ex. Although this is a natural reaction, call it human sympathy if you will, it can be very damaging to the child of that divorce and your future relationship with them. Always bear in mind that the child is probably in a fragile state during the divorce and even the slightest unkindness is likely to be interpreted in an adversarial way by the child. Unkind comments can cause problems in court and may be brought up by the child’s parent when the court considers contact arrangements and in any event it will do you no favours in building a relationship with your step-child.
2. You’re not my Mum/Dad
The cliché has some truth to it and this should never be ignored. Indeed you are not that child’s mother or father and be careful not to give the impression that is what you wish to become. I recognise this is one of the hardest tips to follow given that it is so subjective and the phrase can often be used where it is not warranted or even in a harmful way. Again remember that the child is going through considerable emotional turmoil and is likely to hit out at even the slightest indication that you are doing something that would fit into what their mum or dad would usually do. Children can have a very simplistic, black and white way of looking at things, particularly if they are upset. Be careful with the way you are trying to bond; perhaps the child’s father usually takes them to ballet on a Tuesday and you tried to take the child to ballet and got a fiery. Unfortunately, it can be almost impossible in the early stages to know what the child sees as their parent’s roles in their daily lives but with time these emotional triggers will become well known and ironed out between you and the child.
3. Ignoring the ex’s parenting style
There can be tension between a client’s current and former partner, however this is often much worse when children are involved. Problems can arise when you start to ignore the ex’s wishes and rules for the child. For example, say the ex doesn’t want them drinking fizzy drinks and you go ahead and let the child have a can of Coke at dinner. Ignoring the ex’s parenting choices is likely to undermine them causing possible issues between the child and their parent which can trigger a toxic argument between you, your partner and their ex. In the early stages of a step relationship many step-parents ignore the ex’s parenting style in an attempt to make the child bond with them, being the cool figure of authority in the child’s life. Avoiding the impulse to let the 9 o’Clock bedtime slide will provide the child with a consistent routine and avoid starting an unnecessary conflict with the child’s parent.
4.Take the child’s side
Whether it is a temper tantrum for the latest phone or a meltdown about their relationship with mum, never take their side. Children hit out all the time, it’s a part of growing up but don’t side with them over either of their parents. As mentioned throughout, it will only undermine their authority and you will be seen as over stepping the line.
Being a step-parent is no easy feat and is inevitably different for everyone. Navigating the boundaries is extremely difficult and there will be times where those lines are inadvertently crossed, however time may bring you closer to your step-child and it is important to remain patient. Grayfords’ specialist solicitors are experienced in dealing with all types of families and can provide expert advice for all types of families. Grayfords is also committed to ensuring their clients are given the very best emotional support throughout their legal journey.