Step-Parenting "101": 3 Tips

Step-Parenting "101": 3 Tips

Let's face it.  Being a step-parent can be tough!  Too often as a step-dad I've felt unimpactful and under-appreciated.  At times that has translated to frustration and blame.  When that happens, my self-talk sounds something like this:

  • "If only my step-child would..."
  • "I wish my wife would…"
  • "Why won't anyone behave the way I want them to?!"

This kind of thinking keeps me focused on what everyone else needs to do in order to make me feel better…the problem here is that I can only change me!  I need to focus on what I can do to simply be the best step-parent I can be.  This can be a big and complex subject, but let's take a look at three simple guidelines step-parents can stay centered on.

I call it Step-Parenting 101…

1    Focus

0   Emphasis

1    Support

Patricia Papernow in her book Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships says that a step-parent's job is "Connection, not Correction".  Keep Patricia's statement in mind as you read on…

1 Focus…on Connection

As a step-parent, your primary focus should be on building a relationship with your step-children.  Finding a variety of ways to connect can be a fun process!  Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Ask questions - this seems almost too simple, but we can often assume our job is to teach rather than to learn.  Learning about our step-kid(s) helps us connect with them.  Asking them about their likes, dislikes, history, dreams or feelings can help them to feel valuable and communicates that you care.
  • Learn your step-child's primary "Love Language" and then speak it…often!  Their "Love Language" is the predominate way they will experience love from you.  If you have never heard this term before, check out Gary Chapman's books The 5 Love Languages of Children or The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers
  • Figure out their Personality Type.  There are a multitude of Personality Type models available.  You may have taken a survey at work or when you were in college.  One great resource to learn more about our step-kid(s) from this perspective is the book Nurture by Nature by Paul and Barbara Tieger.  Discovering how your step-kid(s) see the world through their personality can help you discover some great new ways to connect with them. 

You'll likely think of many more ideas on your own.  Just remember to stay focused on interactions that build connection.

 0 Emphasis…on Correction

Just as important as focusing on connection, step-parents need to keep their emphasis away from correction.  One of the most common mistakes step-parents make is inserting themselves into a discipline role too soon.

Chances are, when you married your partner, they were really looking forward to having your support in parenting.  They were hopeful that you would help carry the load of guiding the kid's toward their adulthood.  However, there is one big problem with placing step-parents in a role of disciplinarian…it doesn't facilitate connection.

The parent has a longer history and deeper bond with the children.  Parents are the primary and final authority in children's lives.  This should not change when a stepfamily is formed.  Keep the parent in the primary disciplinarian role and allow the step-parent to keep their focus on connection and steer clear of correction.

This leads us to the final point…

1 Support…of your Partner

…Step-Parenting can be tough, but that doesn't mean being the Parent has it easy!  Step-parents…shift your energy away from disciplining your step-kid(s) and into supporting your partner while they discipline.  Here are three ways you can do this:

  • Strategize with your partner regarding the household values you want to uphold.  This can help you both be clear on which behaviors require discipline and which can be let go of.  (For more thoughts on this, you might want to read my post about unrealistic expectations.)
  • Affirm and encourage your partner when they do a great job with their kids.  Saying something like, "I know it was tough for you last night to hold that boundary with Johnny.  I want you to know I agree with what you did and how you did it…good job!"
  • Give you partner a break!  Be intentional about your 1 Focus above…schedule something fun for you to do with your step-kid(s) that will create connection while your partner does something else that recharges their energy!

A parent who feels supported by their partner will be able to stay more consistent and focused on filling the primary role of disciplinarian.  This helps to create an environment where you, as the step-parent, are free to heed Patricia Papernow's words…"Connection, not Correction".

Question:  What are some creative ways you have found to connect with your step-kid(s)?  Leave a comment below:

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