One of the most complex relationships that I have encountered is that of stepparenting. This is a topic that may not have been researched enough, because most persons who have taken on the challenge are coming up short.
I wish I could count the number of stepparents who have described their stepchildren as “jealous” and “trying to be manipulative.”When the cases are explained it is always cases where someone is hurting and nothing that kindness and patience cannot heal. These children have experienced a great deal of loss in the past and that makes them scared of more hurt. One of the things they fear most is losing their parent to you. Don’t get hooked into competing for time. You’re the adult. Back away every once in a while and give them exclusive time with their parent so they don’t fear you quite so much. Someday, when they allow you in, you can share time with their parent more equitably.” was said by Ron Deal in an article, Stepparenting: It Takes Two
When you are going in you have these unrealistic expectations of things you are both going to do together, in my case, it was football and outdoors to discover this generation is about Internet and Cartoons.
I was so excited, we decided to go to the zoo, this was going to be our first outing alone, I thought it was finally an acceptance of me and so we were going to bond only to discover that closeness and the authority to discipline develop over time, and neither should be rushed. For example, as a stepdad, I was often eager to build a relationship and I commonly thought that being with my stepson one on one was the right thing to do but soon discover that stepchildren are a little uncomfortable with being alone with stepparents.
Some things to observe then:
- Spend time in family group activities instead of intense one-on-one experiences.
- After a period of time, one-on-one opportunities are received more openly. The length of time required for stepchildren to build a relationship with their stepparent depends on a number of factors. This is why it’s so important to let the stepchild set the pace for their relationship with you.
- Meanwhile, learn about the child’s interests, share talents and skills, and engage in family group activities.
- One of the most important stepparenting skills after remarriage is monitoring the children’s activities. This involves knowing their daily routine, where the children are, who they are with, and what extracurricular activities they are involved in but does not necessarily include being involved in the child’s emotional life. Monitoring stepparents check homework and daily chores and befriend stepchildren, yet refrain from the emotional closeness that is not welcomed by the child.
HOW TO APPLY DISCIPLINE
Grow into your role. If I should use the method of my mother and father then it is never going to work. My dad was not very talkative, but you just knew he was angry when things were not done his way.
The ability to lead and influence children comes the old-fashioned way — you earn it. Trust, respect and honour grow out of relational history, and there is no quick way to establish that. Stepparents must be dedicated to building a relationship over time.
Effective stepparents gradually move into disciplinary roles. Power comes with a relationship and grows over time. Let’s look at three positive relationship styles that give way to parental authority.
You can only go as far as you are permitted. When someone is hired as a babysitter they are given the authority to care the child, feed the child, bath and a number of other things, but this person is never given the authority to punish the child if the child misbehaves. It is interesting to note that if the babysitter has bonded with the child long enough, the child is comfortable and feels safer with the babysitter over a period of time and will listen to the babysitter who would never administer discipline on the child. Biological parents have a role to play in this exchange, however, so the child is aware the rules are consistent with the parent, if however, the child feels that there are differences with the rules set then it may be a difficult exchange.
After a moderate relationship has developed, stepparents can move into the “uncle or aunt” stepparenting role. If my sister comes to my house and Nan and I are away for a few hours, she carries some authority with my children simply because she’s their aunt. She is not a full-fledged parent but carries power through her extended family kinship. Stepparents can gradually gain a basic level of respect that allows children to accept them as extended family members by marriage. Stepparents can become more authoritative: clearly communicating limits and encouraging family discussion of rules. Furthermore, as personal bonds deepen, shows of affection and appreciation can become more common. One-on-one activities can become more frequent and personal connections increase.
It is important that stepparents not consider themselves failures if they do not achieve parental status with every child. Again, the length of time required to move into this role depends on a number of factors, most of which are beyond the stepparent’s control. Enjoy the relationship you have now and trust the integration process.
It is a challenge indeed, but one that works and can be rewarding if and when it works out.