Friday, July 23, 2010

6 Steps to Being a Successful Step-Family

When Phil and I married in 1988, I had two children from a previous marriage and then in 1992, Phil and I had our youngest daughter. Having "been there, done that", we think we did a pretty good job eliminating the word "step" from our relationship with each other. Our local newspaper in Richmond, Indiana, did two separate and full page stories on us as a step-family that works. Here are just a few ideas of what we think we did right that we thought we'd share. We have to admit that most of what we did right had nothing to do with dealing with a "step" issue's just common sense parenting!

1. Make sure your relationship is on stable ground FIRST!
When I started dating after my divorce, I was determined not have a lot of “uncles” in and out of my children’s lives. My children knew I was dating but I did not introduce them to my dates until I was comfortable with how my relationship with the guy was going. This is the time period we had lots of conversation, got to know each other’s life philosophies and viewpoints on children and child-rearing. Once he and I established we were a good match, then and only then did we add the children to the mix.

2. Once the children are introduced, you have officially become a package deal!!
My husband and I cannot understand the stepfamilies we hear about in which statements such as “I love him/her but I can’t stand the kids.” are made. We view our relationships as an “all or nothing deal”. I was a divorced woman with 2 kids. If he chose to marry me, he chose to marry my children. If I chose to marry him, I was choosing for my children to “marry” him also. We knew up front we could not have a successfully blended family by leaving out 2 of the 4 ingredients. We compare it to making a BLT with mayo. Try making a good BLT but leave out the bacon and tomato! It just doesn’t work, does it?

3. Authority comes from both of you!
We get quite a laugh from the so called experts who proclaim that only the custodial parent can tell the children what to do and only the custodial parent can have any parental authority. We don’t understand how a family unit can be nurtured and blended if you tell the kids up front “You don’t have to listen to anything he/she tells you. I’m the only one who can tell you what to do.” When parents hire the teenager next door to babysit while the parents take in a movie, the teenager is given more authority than “the experts” claim the step-parent should have!

If the step-parent is going to function as a mother/father, that function includes parental authority. That’s why those early days of discussing child rearing philosophies are so important. One is not going to extend parental authority to a person who does not share the same morals and child rearing philosophies.

We also get a good laugh from those so-called experts who say, “When the kid says ‘you’re not my dad’ how do you answer that…..because the kid is right.” Our response is “so what?” The teacher is not their mother, but the child is expected to follow the teacher’s rules. The supervisor at their first job is not their father, but the child is expected to follow his rules.

Bottom line: If you don’t trust the step-parent to properly discipline your children when the need arises, what the heck are you doing marrying them in the first place?

4. Never, Never, NEVER bad-mouth the other biological parent in front of the children.
This was my #1 rule starting the day I filed for my divorce. No matter what happened between the two of us, he was still my children’s father and they still had a relationship with him. Yes, I will admit there were too many times that I had to bite my tongue, but I did. A kid’s only job should be “being a kid”. They should never have to worry about being in the middle, about which side to take, about being careful what they can say in which house, etc. Their only concern should be to have fun, no matter which house they’re in at the moment. As we like to put it, “A kid should never be involved in the business side of divorce.”

5. “It’s OK to talk about your other biological parent.”
Soon after we married, my oldest daughter started to tell us something funny that happened while she was at her bio-dad’s house. She stopped abruptly in the middle of the story. My husband (her step-dad) said to her, “Christine, it’s ok to talk about your other dad. I know you have one! I know where you go on the weekends. You don’t have to pretend he doesn’t exist. Now, tell us what happened.”

It was like the flood gates opened. She quickly became an animated 12 year old and had us in stitches as she shared her stories of weekend swimming with her little brother and her biological dad. We realized at that point what a burden she thought she had to carry. She thought she wasn’t “allowed” to mention her other dad in our house. Once we lifted that burden from her, she was able to be “just a kid”.

6. “Same rules, same love”
I picked up this wise bit of advice from a co-worker who was also a step-mom. She had married a man who had custody of a pre-teen daughter, plus they had two kids of their own. She treated all of the kids the same. Her biological kids didn’t get any treated any differently than the step-daughter.

We did the same thing. We never referred to the children as “her children” or “my step-children”. They were always “our” children. Our third child doesn’t even know she’s a “half” sister to her older brother and sister. We never drew lines between us to differentiate ourselves into two groups. We were a family.

One family.

"Those who say it cannot be done should stop interupting those of us who are doing it." ---- Ralph Waldo Emerson

1 comment:

  1. This is great advice, Debi. I agree with you on the importance of not dragging your children into parental/adult conflicts.