Of all the family relationships that exist the step parent role may be the most difficult.  There are so many factors and variables involved.  I am going to give a few guidelines and directives to those of you who may have an interest in that complex position.  I am aided here by Dr. Phil and the principles espoused in his book “Family First.”

1. The step parent should not be the disciplinarian.  That honor goes to the biological parent. If the step parent disciplines s/he is in a  lose — lose situation.  The biological parent may be upset by what you did, how you did it, when you did it, and why you did it. Also, the kids will dislike you even more than they may already — plus they may confront you with your right to do so.   It can get ugly.

2. The step parent needs to have input, dialogue with, and agree with whatever discipline the biological parent ultimately adopts — and actively support it on a consistent basis. S/he is not to take any guff or abuse from the step kids.  Sending the kids to their room may be a necessary buffer step.

3. The step parent should seek to define his or her role as an ally and supporter of the kids.  Often insight and advice may be solicited and welcomed by the step kids once a certain trust level is established.  The step parent is not to supplant the out of home biological parent who hopefully is still involved with his or her kids — but is additive.

The step parent should not be naïve or overly optimistic as to the level of closeness or intimacy that can be achieved with the step kids.  It takes time to build a solid trusting relationship and usually many challenges must be met to reach that goal. The step kids usually have an ambivalent stance, sometimes hostile, to a step parent coming into their lives. In most cases they are wishing and hoping that their absent biological parent will return and that this “interloper” will leave.

5. The step parent should actively support the children’s relationship with the biological parent who no longer lives in the house.  There may be exceptions if this parent is unhealthy and detrimental to the children’s welfare.

6. If you are a step parent in a blended family such as “yours, mine, and ours”, be particularly careful to not play favorites.  Kids are very sensitive to this and often will raise the issue — even if it does not exist in actuality. This is probably the number one reason that second marriages such as this model fail.

A step parent rarely receives his or her due, but if it occurs it most likely will be after many years into it.  The child/adult must be capable of understanding and appreciating the sacrifices and valiant effort made.

If you are in the step parent role or expect to be in one — good luck. You will need it as it is such a challenging position. Yet, it can be so significant in the lives of step kids you help to parent.  In most cases you deserve a gold medal. Thank you for offering yourself to this very significant role!

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