Step-parenting: the non-biological parent

Step-parentingStep-parenting your non-biological kids can be a challenge.

We have grown up with stories of the wicked step-mother and the TV and press often support these stereotypes of bad step-parents.

Patience and perserverance can make step-parenting a productive and rewarding experience

The evil step-parent syndrome

Society can still see the step-parent as the disruptive force in the previous marriage and as someone interfering with the family relationships.The children have a long standing relationship with their biological parents and can have divided loyalties. Step-mothers may hear the "I love mommy better" response of younger kids or may be faced with the sullen non-cooperative teen. Patience and perserverance are needed to face this challenge and build a good relationship with these kids. This bias is not universal and step-parenting can be a productive and rewarding experience.

Building a relationship

Building a relationship with the step-kids is the major focus of parenting in the early months and even years. Discipline should be mainly coming from the biological parents and supported by you as the step-parent.

The children will feel divided loyalties between you, a step-parent and their biological parent. Anything you can do to reduce this will help.

  • Support their feelings of love for their biological parents
  • Do not criticize their non-resident parent in front of them or within hearing
  • Model loving behavior for them between you and your spouse
  • Be available if they need to talk
  • Listen carefully and refrain from answering until they are done
  • Do not pressure them into declaring loyalties or verbal expressions of love

Patience is key to successfully establishing a relationship with a step-child. If they resist an approach, stop and try something else. Of course for some children, they will accept a step-parent right away. This is more common among young kids.

Building a relationship with young children

Praising positive behavior, listening to them when they need to talk and being supportive and participating in their activities can work well with young children.

  • Ask if they need help in the morning
  • Ask if they would like you to read to them
  • Invite them to participate e.g. making cookies

Be careful not to try to replace or compete with their parents.If you have an especially difficult time bonding with a child, ease up and let them come to you. Making yourself available without pressuring the child and being patient can work well. Most of all do not expect an instant close relationship. Like any relationship, it needs to be built with care and time.

Dealing with teens as a step-parent

Teens may have a more difficult time with change and they tend to look as much to their friends and peer group for guidance as their parents. Teens are already dealing with uncertainty, independence and control and a step-parent can become the focus of that struggle.

  • Leave the discipline to the biological parent
  • Support the other parent in dealing with their kids
  • Understand that a teen may not be angry at you but at the situation
  • Accept that a teen may rapidly go from one attitude to another over time
  • Avoid pressurizing the teen as they will likely rebel or reject you

A close relationship between the teen and the step-parent is not essential for a functional family. If the biological parent has a good parenting relationship with the teen, then the family can function.

Real step-families take time to form

If you recognise that step-families take time to form, then you will realize that you need to take your time bonding with the kids and parenting will be limited especially at first.

Real step-families have kids at different ages and of different personalities. Some of the kids may take to you immediately while others may be very slow to bond with you.

Ensure that your relationship does not suffer because of parenting difficulties. Understand that your spouse may have different ideas about parenting and you will need to support them even if you do not fully agree with them. Respecting your spouse's parenting goes a long way to preserving your relationship and to setting an example for the kids.