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Step Parenting And The Problems Of Sharing Authority

March 7th, 2021

Step parenting brings its own special problems as the new step parent is often caught in the middle between the biological parent and the children. Just how much of a problem you will encounter depends upon a whole variety of factors, not the least of which will be the degree of co-operation you receive from the biological parent and the ages of the children involved.

The secret to successful step parenting lies first in clearly establishing your role with the biological parent because you will certainly have an uphill struggle if the two of you are not fully in agreement from the outset. As with any changes in a relationship though you must also realize that adjustments will take time and you need to adopt a ‘step by step’ approach. Any attempt to rush things, or to force the situation, will undoubtedly lead to frustration, if not confrontation. The biological parent may well feel threatened, if only sub-consciously, by the need to share parenting and will need time to adjust and to develop confidence and trust in you as a parent to his or her children.

Next, you will clearly need to establish your role with the children who, unless they are very young, will often resent being guided by an ‘outsider’. You will need to take things slowly and accept that the children will need time to adjust to the situation before they will accept you in the role of a parent. Once again, you will need the help of the biological parent in cementing your relationship with the children.

Any successful transition into step parenting must start with a clear and frank discussion with the biological parent, during which each party must communicated freely and honestly about how they see their role, and that of the other party, and you must both reach a clear agreement on just how you should share the responsibilities of parenting. This discussion should also set clear boundaries but should be flexible enough to allow for adjustment, especially in the critical first few weeks and months following the establishment of this new relationship.

This initial discussion will not of course be the end of the matter and several such discussions will need to take place before any truly meaningful and lasting shift in parenting responsibilities can take place.

Once you are in agreement the next step is to bring the children on board and this step must initially be led by the biological parent. At an appropriate time the family should all sit down together and the biological parent should lead off a discussion in which the plan which you have agreed can be revealed to the children and discussed with them.

At this point it is important to emphasize that this should be a genuine discussion and not simply a case of the parents ‘laying down the law’ to the children. It is vitally important that the children contribute to the discussion and that their thoughts and views on what you have agreed be heard. Children, just like adults, need to be given a sense of control over their own lives and need to feel comfortable with the situation in which they now find themselves. This is not to say 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 every effort should be made to ensure that they understand the situation and are as happy with it as is possible.

The simple fact that the children can see that their parents have clearly considered the position carefully, and are in agreement about it, will go a long way to preventing the children from playing one parent off against the other and their inclusion in the process will also help considerably in bringing them on board.

Arriving on the scene as a new step parent can be difficult for not only the step parent but for the biological parent and the children and all parties will need to work together slowly and take their time to establish an environment in which everyone can live happily together.

Step-Parenting and Teen Troubles

February 7th, 2021

Step-parents often experience rejection and anger from the step-child in the teenage years. After giving so much loving care over the years, it can be more than a parent can bear when the child seemingly turns against them in the teen years.

So, let me try to briefly explain how this can happen with step-children and even with adopted children.

The most simplistic way to explain this complicated issue is through my own love of a certain kind of candy, Peanut M&M’s. Whenever and wherever I travel or speak, I always like to have Peanut M&M’s nearby. Sometimes I’ve run into a situation, however, when a similar candy, Skittles, are the only thing available. They are similar in appearance, but they aren’t the same. In fact, they actually only serve to remind me of what I could be enjoying with Peanut M&M’s.

You may ask, what do Peanut M&M’s have to do with anything? Well, let’s apply this silly analogy to your step-daughter. Let’s say she also loves Peanut M&M’s. In fact, they are her favorite candy. She gotten accustomed to having them nearby. She loves them and shares them with others, and likes knowing they are always available. Then, suddenly, her Peanut M&M’s are taken away and replaced with Skittles, another similar candy.

In this analogy, step-parents are like Skittles. The step-parent is a replacement for something your daughter longs for and loves ( her biological parent). Now, there is nothing wrong with Skittles. In fact, Skittles are a wonderful candy, just like you are surely a wonderful parent to her. They are not, however, what she longs for, maybe without even knowing it.

The point is this — it doesn’t matter that you have been a loving parent to her for many years. She still longs for her missing parent, or her perception of the way things used to be. She longs for her family to look like other families, or to have both parents together. She may even incorrectly believe that her life would be happy and free of problems if things hadn’t changed. And here’s the kicker, every time she sees you, she is reminded of what she no longer has and truly wants down deep — her birth parent.

Key Point . . . Every time she sees you, she is reminded of what
she no longer has and truly wants down deep — her birth parent.

You are a breathing, daily reminder of something your teen has lost, and still longs for. It doesn’t matter that there is nothing wrong with you, or that you might even be a better person and parent than her real parent. What matters at this stage in her life is what she perceives she’s lost. In my experience, loss is one of the most potent causes of emotional strife and behavioral problems in the adolescent years.

Mistakes Step-Parents Make

In trying to “fix” the attitudes and behavior of a wayward step-child, I often see parents try to bribe the child into better behavior or mood by giving them things, by letting them do whatever they want, nor by looking the other way when they step out of line. However, for the parent, such behavior is out of line and will ultimately lead to deeper issues for the child and the parent.

The goal for any parent, step-parent or not, is simply this: to lead a child to embrace their Maker, to develop civil behavior and to teach the child to survive and thrive in the world. Those standards are not always supported by a parent whose primary goal is to keep their children happy all the time.

The best approach to take is to maintain your proper parental role, recognizing what you can and cannot change for your teenager. For instance, you can’t change her feelings of loss, or the past decisions that affect her today. You can’t change the facts of her current circumstances. You can’t change what may have happened outside of the realm of your control.

It makes no sense to demand a step-child to stop feeling the way she does, or to constantly emphasize all you have done for her. Instead, if things are becoming difficult, find a good counselor to help her work through her loss. Eventually that will change the way she thinks and behaves. I’m not saying it will be easy but taking this approach allows you continue to deal with behavioral issues by enforcing rules and applying consequences, while a counselor deals with the emotional issues.

Even though your teen may be going through some internal issues, she should not be allowed to step over boundaries of respect and break your household rules. Boundaries in step-families can actually encourage openness, but in a respectful and self-controlled way.

Step-parents should acknowledge the fact that their teen is dealing with a sense of loss or abandonment, but that shouldn’t be a reason for backing off their parental role or becoming a whipping post. Letting the step-child know that she doesn’t have the freedom to just dump on you whenever she feels like it, and that you don’t have to answer every criticism she throws your way, defines your parental authority. And, letting her know you understand why she may be feeling angry will go a long way toward building respect between the two of you.

Take Heart

If you are in the midst of such a turmoil, take heart. Your step-child’s feelings of loss will not go on forever. The adolescent usually outgrows the inner turmoil in a few years, and can get past it even quicker if it is dealt with more directly with the help of a good counselor. But also remember this…parents who stick to their parental role and continue to demand mutual respect in the home usually come out with a stronger relationship with the child on the other side than do parents who give in and try to appease the child. And the child is more stable and more mature for it.