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ParentingPanicButton » parenting advice, parenting help, parenting tips » Choosing the Role of Step-Parent Part 1

Choosing the Role of Step-Parent Part 1

I have been a step-parent of children on and off for the last 32 years.   It is an awesome, rewarding, and sometimes thankless privilege for which I am continually grateful.  My relationship with each of my six step-children has brought me opportunities for inner and outer growth.  I am a fervent believer in karma, so I know I was meant to be in their lives, and they, in mine.  Here are some of the collective lessons I have learned, and joys I continue to cherish.

If you are going to be committed to a relationship with someone who already has children, know that the children will be in your life.  That is not a choice.  If you truly love your partner, you must fully accept their children, or step back before it is too late.  However, you do not have to accept their children’s behaviors, nor do you have to clean up their messes or financially support them. You also do not have to accept the abuse of an ex-spouse.  Those are all up for discussion and negotiation and I would recommend doing that as soon as the relationship becomes committed.

It is helpful for you and your parenting partner to make a list of your negotiable, non-negotiable and “give it up” expectations in raising kids and to share and compare your expectation.    This is valuable because it outlines what you are looking for and imagining in a relationship before you have met or know the person.

My wife and I established mindful and shared understandings about what was to come, and this has made a huge difference in stewarding and raising happy, successful and healthy children. Our intentional and respectful understandings around all of the issues were carefully discussed and considered, and we reached an agreement that would benefit the kids with a mom, and a committed co-parent who had clear boundaries, expectations, and intentions. Each step-child I have helped raise has been and will always be precious to me, and will have my own unique brand of support forever.

If you are going to step-parent, have clear understandings and boundaries!

Find and define your role.  With children who have another living parent, it is imperative to see that person in the way that they see themselves in relation to the child and the parenting role.  Provided that the child’s biological father or mother falls into the parameter of safe, non-abusive and responsible, it is important to be aware of the role of that parent, and not to usurp it.  You can give the child things that he/she is not getting that are your unique contributions, and as long as they are not touted or gloated about, they may likely be appreciated.  Such things for me have been musical education, summer camp experience, study skills coaching and other self-esteem building activities.

Some of my step-children needed to know that I was not their “primary parent” and that my authority was not unconditional to them.  I agreed and accepted the understanding that, as long as the children were safe, not hurting another physically or emotionally, and respectful and non-abusive to their mother, I would not step in to discipline.  I would keep to my role to being a coach, advisor, mentor and guide.  This acknowledgement demonstrated respect and boundaries to the child’s biological parent, while not abdicating responsibility or ultimate safety in above said situations. No need to call me dad.

Another of my step-children has found their own unique endearing relationship with me that had its own container, earned respect and boundaries

It is entirely different if the biological parent is permanently out of the picture or deceased.  This situation offers a golden opportunity for me to hold that person in respect and esteem, without any interaction or interference.  It is essential not to try to be the replacement.  You never will be.  Just be you!








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