Tips for Being a Supportive Stepparent
There’s always the four-leaf clover stepparent who lucks up to somehow seamlessly and painlessly meld into a blended family. Yeah, we don’t like them much. For most of us, the reality is that learning to be a supportive stepparent can feel like it’s pulling you a thousand different directions. You just can’t make a move that’s right.
It’s a lot of growing pains, and it’s difficult to stay the supportive stepparent you want to be, right? Let’s look at how you can be a supportive stepparent without losing your mind, along the way.
Supportive Stepparent …. Perspective Is Key
One of the biggest keys to success as a stepparent is simply stopping to gain perspective from the entire situation, not just your own point of view.
You’re ready to go full steam and be this amazing stepparent. When that’s unappreciated, unwanted, or all out rejected, your natural inclination is to try harder. We don’t pause to figure out the why(s) of not being accepted.
The adolescent brain and stress-response system doesn’t fully develop until the early to mid-twenties. It doesn’t matter how smart, mature, or put together a child seems. Their brain simply isn’t structurally developed enough to process and cope with emotions and stressors in a constructive manner.
And, we all know that death and divorce, particularly when there’s a tense pull for the child to take sides, can cause toxic stress that only further delays brain development.
In other words, children often don’t have the mental and emotional capacity to see that a stepparent isn’t an intruder who’s responsible for their biological parents not being together. Instead, they use what they know – blame, anger, resentment, frustration, rebellion, and so forth. It’s often aimed directly at you, the stepparent.
After all, biological parents are endowed with love, trust, and lots of free passes. You, as the newcomer, are the obvious target, and you don’t have the luxury of free passes.
You may be seen as the reason a parent doesn’t make visitation. Plus you may be seen as the reason a parent isn’t at birthday parties. In addition, you may be seen as the end-all blame for everything, anything that goes wrong.
Validation and Security
It’s called projection, and your best weapon to counteract it is validation and security. Do what you must to prove that you’re a secure, not harmful, place for your stepchild. Validate their feelings and need to be listened to and heard while your actions prove that those thoughts and feelings are off base.
They may also see you as a time leech. If their biological parents had an unhealthy relationship, either might have spent a great deal of time with the kids verses each other. Now, that mom or dad is in a healthy marriage with you, the children need time to understand why they have to share their parent’s time with you.
Realizing and empathizing with what your stepchild might be feeling and experiencing is crucial to being an active part of the child’s life. It’s a very important factor when being a supportive stepparent.
Keys to being a Positive Stepparent ….
Don’t Compare And Contrast
Even if you were a stepchild, that doesn’t make you an authority on what your stepchild is going through. No two situations or children are exactly the same. Assuming so will lead you to some very negative thoughts. Along with judgmental assumptions that may forever damage your relationship with both your spouse and their children.
So, don’t compare your situation or judge its progress by other cases. Letting your blended family find its place organically is crucial.
Develop The Relationship Naturally
Biological parents have a built-in relationship with their child that they didn’t have to earn. One of the worst mistakes a stepparent can make is assuming their role is a given and their title is free. Building trust with your stepchildren and spouse is vital.
In the role of becoming a supportive stepparent, you will have to work diligently to prove that you care and earn the trust you seek. How?
You should go by the clues your stepchild offers, allowing space when needed and making gentle pushes when necessary. Make an effort to spend one-on-one time with them to better understand their struggles and personality.
Without being forceful, be persistent by always being available, open, and inviting. Discover your stepchild’s passions, interests and goals so that you can be a resource for them. Look for common interests, and, if none exist, look for new things to discover together.
Developing a relationship is rarely automatic. It takes time and patience. As you show love, support, and dedication, your stepchildren will naturally develop a bond with you and transition into a happy and well-adjusted blended family structure.
Show Your Stepchild There’s Never Too Much Love And Support
Everything you do should be with the child’s best interest at heart, which means putting aside jealousy or dislike for the biological parent and being a facilitator for whatever is best for the child.
In an eagerness to have that instant family, stepparents often overstep their role as a stepparent. It’s fantastic to want to treat your stepchild as you would your own. However, you do have to remember that this child still has a biological parent that they don’t want to see pushed aside or disrespected.
It’s natural for your stepchild to want to spend time with their non-custodial biological parent, and it’s important that you support this, not discourage or hinder it. If there’s a safety issue, discuss it with your spouse and let him/her handle it with their ex or legally.
You should be very careful about saying negative things about your stepchild’s parent, even if it’s truthful. You shouldn’t compare what’s given or taken in one household to another, treatment differences, and so forth. One of the primary keys to becoming a supportive stepparent is to focus on your role in your own household.
Never forget that this role isn’t to judge the biological parent’s relationship or their parenting skills. Your role is to show this child that there’s no such thing as too many people loving them nor too many people supporting them and that you’re one of those people.
Approach Discipline With Caution
Of course, there may be times that you will have to act as disciplinarian for your stepchildren. Especially if they’re left in your care for extended periods of time.
Discipline is one of the trickiest stepparent aspects. You have stepchildren pushing the boundaries of a new family dynamic and pushing buttons to see what happens. On your end, overzealous discipline leaves you overstepping and too little leaves the child to disrespect you.
To make it work, begin by establishing a base of respect. These are ways, not rules, that you and your spouse sit down and convey to the child on how they are expected to treat you and how you will treat them in return.
Behaviors and Actions
So far as rules, step back and let the biological parent set the discipline rules. Be sure to have an open line of communication with your spouse on behaviors and actions that aren’t acceptable to you and be supportive of the decisions they make.
One of the best traits of becoming a supportive stepparent – Tackle any discipline changes you agree are necessary one at a time. Verses making big changes that are easily resented. Whenever possible, it’s best to remind your stepchild of rules and consequences when they’re misbehaving but to leave carrying out any consequences to the biological parent.
No one said being a supportive stepparent would be easy… only that it would be worth it. In raising my own two wonderful stepchildren, I can attest that today’s struggles will pay off if you use these tips to guide your role as a stepparent.
If you approach the stepparent-stepchild relationship organically as something that’s planted, slowly grows, and needs constant nourishment, then it will be fruitful. Put in the diligent work, especially when it seems the hardest. You can succeed in becoming a supportive stepparent, patience and communication are very, very important.