3 "P's" for Step-Parents

3 "P's" for Step-Parents

Why do step-parents get such a bad rap?

It seems our society has bought into a lie that step-parents are 'evil' and that they believe their step-kids are just a nuisance.  Fairytales like Cinderella and Hansel & Gretel certainly don't help our reputation.  (by the way…why do step-moms particularly have it even worse?!)

Maybe there's evidence for the 'evil' step-parent in fairytales, but I haven't met a step-parent yet with evil intent.  Actually, the opposite is true.  Most step-parents we've worked with are actively seeking to build a bond with their step-children.  They want to be a positive influence and build a lasting relationship.

If you're a step-mom or step-dad who wants to challenge this cultural lie, then you're in the right place.  Here's three things you can focus on to be the step-parent that will defy what the culture (or even your own step-kids) might say about you.

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3 P's for Step-Parenting  

Patience is essential for step-parents.  You probably started out with a desire to connect with your step-child(ren).  Somewhere along the way, your desire may have turned to disappointment when they didn't seem to want to connect with you.  

Building bonds takes time…lots of time!  Stepfamily expert Ron Deal says that step-parents need to be "…patient with the integration process and not [try] to force love, care or togetherness (the average stepfamily needs 5-7 years to integrate)…" (p.94).  

Wow — 5-7 years!  That's an average and dependent on many different variables.  But the point is, building connection in a stepfamily takes TIME.  So, don't get impatient…and don't give up!  Which leads us to the next "P"…

Persistence through the journey is a must.  Not simply for a handful of months or a couple of years, but over the long haul.

As Annika (my step-daughter) was growing up, there were times I wanted to just give up.  It felt like no matter what I did it just wasn't good enough.  At times, it was only by sheer grit that I kept showing up.  I decided early on that I simply wasn't going to give up.

Step-parents, you need to keep showing up.  Allow yourself to be interrupted when your step-child wants to ask a question.  Volunteer to help when you see they need it…and keep volunteering even after you've been denied a few times.  Keep yourself available as much as possible.

Persistence is your hammer and chisel that will bring down their walls one brick at a time.   After 17 years of persistence, Annika and I are blessed with a close bond that we both would have missed out on if I had thrown in the towel.  I'm grateful I hung in there and partnered with her along the way…which leads us to the final "P"…

Partnership is key in two specific ways.  The first is to focus on "connection, not correction" as Patricia Papernow puts it.  The best partners don't boss others around.  They ask good questions.  They try to understand the other's perspective.  They are respectful and kind even in disagreement.

One of the easiest ways to partner with your step-child is by watching for opportunities to ask simple questions.  "What do you think about that?" or "What do you think your next step is?" or "How are you feeling about that?"  These are questions that invite them to connect without a lot of pressure.  You may get the shoulder shrug response and when you do, refer back to the first to "P's" - be patient and persistent…ask your question again the next time you see an opportunity.

The second important element of partnership is for you.  Keep investing in your marriage/partnership.  Share what your experiencing, even when it's tough and ask for your partner's thoughts and support.  You need a solid partnership in order to keep moving forward.  And don't forget other partners in life.  Friends, mentors, counselors or coaches can encourage and support you too!

Don't stand for the 'evil' step-parent lies any longer.  We can each create a different story in our stepfamily through patience, persistence and partnership!

Make sure to watch out for next week's article where Kim will share the three "P's" for Parents!

QUESTION:  Which of the three "P's" would you like to focus on in your current season?  Leave a comment below...

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