In 2010, the number of blended families exceeded the number of nuclear (traditional) families in the United States. Blended families are now commonplace in our society. One in three Americans is now a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling or some other member of a blended family. More than half of Americans today have been, are now, or will eventually be, in one or more step situations during their lives. Despite the increasing number of blended families, the divorce rate for blended families is well over 60%. Becoming a stepparent is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. With that said, here are three tips for becoming a better stepparent.
The level of parental involvement is the strongest and most consistent predictor of your stepchild’s mental health, adjustment, happiness, and overall well-being. Children with involved parents do better in school, have better self-esteem, are less likely to develop emotional problems, and are less likely to take risks or get into trouble. To maintain a high level of involvement in your stepchild’s life will probably require you to relook at your priorities. You will need to find a balance between your needs and that of your children. Stepchildren need your involvement both inside and outside the home. Suggestions:
o Helping with their homework.
o Reading to your child.
o Volunteering at their school.
• Attending their sporting events, musicals, and school plays.
• Take them to see a movie they’ve wanted to see, their favorite sporting team or a trip to the mall; just make sure it’s something they want to do.
• Involvement with outside activities they participate in, like scouting.
• Talking and listening to your child.
When it comes to your stepchildren you may feel like you’re invisible, but you can be assured your stepchildren are watching you, what you say and what you do. The most important example you will set is how you treat your spouse (their biological parent). Your marriage must come first. Remember: your blended family is borne out of loss for your stepchildren by either divorce or through the death of the other biological parent. By being a good husband or wife, you are setting an example for your stepchildren in how they will eventually treat their own spouses. Suggestions:
• Be a person of honesty and integrity.
• Allow your stepchildren to be themselves even you don’t agree with some of their actions.
• Get help for addictions like drugs, sex or alcohol; take care of yourself.
• Do not speak unfavorably about the absent parent.
• Do not insist on your stepchildren call you ‘mom’ or ‘dad.’
• Treat your children and stepchildren equally; no favoritism.
• Accept your stepchild’s loyalty to their absent parent.
• Allow your child to speak about their absent parent.
• Do the right thing – even if it hurts.
• Have humility; acknowledge your mistakes and make amends when possible.
United Front. You need to have the support of your spouse. If you don’t, all of your efforts as a stepparent will be undermined. With your spouse, develop a joint vision for your child. Picture your children when they are ready to leave home; what kind of person do you want them to be? Remember that their values, character, etc. all stem from your influences as a parent. Identify your parenting style (authoritarian, authoritative or permissive) and discuss how you will complement your styles to effectively parent your children. Disagree with your spouse in private, not in front of your children. Resolve conflicts by focusing on what is best for the child, not which parent has the most power.
As a stepparent, you are commended because you didn’t have to become one. Being a successful stepparent is challenging; the role is not clearly defined and will vary from family to family. Father’s and Mother’s Day may come and go, and you may never be acknowledged for your role. By implementing these three tips, you can be your own cheerleader and recognize the positive difference you’re making in the lives of your stepchildren.