If you find yourself undertaking a step parenting role, you may frequently be caught in the middle of arguments between the biological parent and the children. Depending largely upon the degree of co-operation you get from the biological parent and the ages of the children, this problem may be either fairly simple to resolve or extremely difficult to overcome.
Step Parenting Is About Establishing Roles
Successful step parenting depends first upon clearly establishing your role with the biological parent because, if the two of you are not fully in agreement from the outset, you will certainly have a very steep hill to climb. It also depends upon a realization that any adjustments will take time and that a ‘step by step’ approach will need to be adopted towards change. Attempting to rush things, or trying to force the situation, will undoubtedly result frustration or, even worse, to confrontation. The biological parent might well feel threatened by the need to share parenting and will have to have time to adjust to the situation and to gain confidence and trust in you as a parent.
You will also clearly have to establish your role with the children who, except in the case of the very young, will frequently resent receiving guidance by an ‘outsider’. You will need to take your time and to accept that the children will also need time to adjust to their changed circumstances before accepting you in the role of a parent. Again, you will need the help of the biological parent in establishing your relationship with the children.
Successful step parenting must begin with a clear and open discussion with the biological parent, during which each parent must speak freely and honestly about how they see their role, and that of the other parent, and you must both come to a clear understanding on just how you should share the parenting responsibilities. This discussion must also set clear boundaries but has to be flexible enough to allow for adjustment, particularly in the critical weeks and months following the establishment of this new relationship.
This discussion will not be the end of the matter of course and several further discussions will have to take place before any meaningful and lasting shift in parenting responsibilities can happen.
The Role of Children in Step Parenting
Having reached an agreement the next step is to get the children on board and this step should initially be led by the biological parent. When the time is right the family should all sit down as a group and the biological parent should lead off on a discussion in which your agreement is revealed to the children and discussed with them.
It is important to emphasize that this must be a genuine discussion and not simply a case of the parents ‘laying down the law’ to the children. It is vital that the children are allowed to contribute to the discussion and that their views on your agreement be heard. Just like adults, children need to have a sense of control over their lives and to feel comfortable with the situation in which they find themselves. This does not mean that the children should be given control of the situation, which should remain firmly in the hands of the parents as the ultimate decision makers within the household, but an effort must be made to see that they understand the position and are happy with it.
If the children can see that their parent and step parent have considered their positions carefully, and are in agreement about it, it will help to prevent the children from playing one parent off against the other. By including the children in the decision making process, it will also go a long way towards bringing them on board and accepting the new position of shared authority from the step parent.