Should Step-Parents Focus on Authority...or Influence?

Should Step-Parents Focus on Authority...or Influence?

Being a step-parent is tough.  (Seems like an understatement, doesn't it?)

I haven't met a step-parent yet that didn't want to make a positive difference in their step-children's lives. As I headed into step-parenthood knowing that I was going to be a great "bonus dad", I had big plans to invest in my step-daughter, Annika.  I was ready to bestow my "great wisdom" on her so that she would find success in life.  I believed that the first step was to establish my authority early on so that she could learn from me.

I guess I wasn't so smart back then.

It didn't take too long for me to discover I had very little authority with Annika.  I would ask myself how in the world I was going to fix this and gain the authority this child needed?  But I was asking the wrong question.

I should have been asking how I could gain influence in Annika's life.

Authority vs. Influence

Authority:  the power or right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience.

Authority is established at birth between a parent and a child.  Parents use their authority when necessary to teach, guide or keep their children safe.  It is based on the parent and child being bonded by blood and their long history of relationship.

The role of authority in a blended family belongs to the parent.  A step-parent's focus should be on influence.  

Influence:  the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone.

Influence is a process that can start right away for step-parents.  Influence doesn't demand obedience or give orders.  Influence starts with connection and moves forward slowly.

The big difference is that healthy authority requires an established relationship in order for kids to accept it well; influence can begin at any stage of the relationship.

A Different Focus

Step-parents who choose influence over authority have a different focus.  

Step-parents seeking authority are often focused on children complying to rules and responding to direction.  This approach is often self-focused as opposed to seeking what is best for the child.  The more our step-children comply, the more order we expect to have in family life.  I only say this because I have lived it.  I wanted Annika to comply to my directions because I wanted us to have order in our home.

Influence moves step-parents from being self-focused to being others-focused.  When you are working to positively influence your step-child, influence causes you to be more strategic in your approach and to focus on the relationship first.

Patricia Papernow says that step-parents should focus on "connection, not correction".  Remember, influence starts with connection and it moves forward slowly.  The more you focus on genuine connection, building a bonded relationship with your step-child the more influence you will gain.  

Step-parents, we need a different focus.  Move your aim from authority to influence.

A Word To Parents

Parents, you have a major role to play in helping your partner make this shift to influence a success.  Children need healthy authority in their life and you are the primary person to provide it.  In order for your partner to successfully influence your child, you must remain in authority.  Kim recently posted a blog that might help.  Click here to check it out.

Start Today!

Annika is 22 years old now and we have a wonderfully close relationship.  Because we have a bond built on trust, I get to influence her as she navigates the challenges of young adulthood.  I am convinced that my focus shift from authority to influence is the primary reason.

If you have already been focused on claiming authority with your step-child(ren), then let today be the day that you change your focus.  Focus on influence and start by building connection.

QUESTION:  What's one way you can create a positive connection with your step-child today?  Leave a comment below…

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