Step-parenting: how to make it work

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Becoming a stepparent by blending families or marrying someone with kids can be rewarding and fulfilling. If you’ve never had kids, you’ll get the chance to share your life with a younger person and help to shape his or her character. If you have kids, they can build relationships and establish a special bond that only siblings can have.

In some cases, new family members get along without a problem. But sometimes there are bumps in this new road.

Figuring out your role as a parent — aside from the day-to-day responsibilities that come with it — also may lead to confusion or even conflict between you and your partner, your partner’s ex, and their kids.

While there’s no easy formula for creating the “perfect” family, it’s important to approach this situation with patience and understanding for the feelings of all are involved. Here’s how to make things easier as you adapt to your new role.

Start Slow

The initial role of a stepparent is that of another caring adult in a child’s life, similar to a loving family member or mentor. You may desire a closer bond right away, and might wonder what you’re doing wrong if your new stepchild doesn’t warm up to you or your kids as quickly as you’d like. But relationships need time to grow.

Be you

Make sure to remain yourself and realistic. You’ll have a better chance of developing that close relationship you long for.

All parents face difficulties. But when you’re a stepparent, they can be harder because you’re not the birth parent. This can open up power struggles within the family, whether it’s from the kids, your partner’s ex, or even your partner. When times get tough, putting kids’ needs first can help you make good decisions. Here’s how:

Put needs, not wants, first. Kids need love, affection, and consistent rules above all else. Giving them toys or treats, especially if they’re not earned with good grades or behavior, can lead to a situation where you feel like you’re trading gifts for love. Similarly, if you feel guilty for treating your biological kids differently from your stepchildren, don’t buy gifts to make up for it. Do you best to figure out how to treat them more equally.

House rules matter. Keep your house rules as consistent as possible for all kids, whether they’re your kids from a previous relationship, your partner’s kids from a previous relationship, or children you have together. It also helps to “spread” rewards and punishments across both households. When kids do a good deed and earn praise or a privilege in one household, they should receive similar praise or rewards when they go back to the other household. The same goes for punishment; this can help kids feel like both families are on the same page, and it keeps one parent or household from being the “good guy” or the “bad guy.”

Create new family traditions. Find special activities to do with your step kids, but be sure to get their feedback. New family traditions could include board game nights, bike riding together, cooking, doing crafts, or even playing quick word games in the car. The key is to have fun together, not to try to win their love — kids are smart and will quickly figure out if you’re trying to force a relationship.

Communication between you and your partner is important so that you can make parenting decisions together. This is especially crucial if you each have different notions on parenting and discipline. If you’re new to parenting as a stepparent, ask your partner what would be the best way to get to know the kids. Use resources to find out what kids of different ages are interested in.

No matter how your new family came to be, chances are there’ll be some challenges along the way. But even if things start off a little rocky, they still can improve as you and your new family members get to know each other better.

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