Step-In-Parenting (try this at home)
As a step father or step mother, you are actually stepping IN, not aside of a unique parental role. You’re not replacing their other bio parent, but stepping in as a parental figure to fill in the gaps as much as you can. These thoughts are a work in progress, but here are some guidelines coming from a bio-mama who loves her children and wants what’s best for them and their childhood that includes growing up in blended families.
You can customize this list for you and your own household, because each family —especially blended families, have their own unique set of circumstances and needs to meet in order to make their family work in a healthy way. And these needs and circumstances evolve just as the children and hopefully, the adults do.
- First and foremost: Love these children as if they were YOURS. This is not on the condition of whether or not their other bio parent is “in the picture” this is something you can consciously commit to regardless of the degree to which the other bio parent is involved. There’s an emotional adoption that needs to happen from the beginning. There is no “probationary” period for the kids, you aren’t becoming a foster parent, you’re a step-in parent that’s being grafted into this family tree. Just as kids are adopted by their adoptive parents by the initiation of the adoptive parent, there is a stable and UNCONDITIONAL commitment to the kids. To not have this happen is to create rifts out of your own self-protection. You could be rejected, or not. It’s not on the condition of them accepting you. You’re not applying for this job, if you’re married or fully committed to a partner with kids, this is the deal. You’re all in, or your not in at all. Some things really are all or nothing. Kids are extremely sensitive, their resilient but sensitive and will feel this sense of insecurity if you have not emotionally adopted them into your heart. As far as your heart is concerned, these children are as if they are your own flesh and blood. They aren’t “his” or “her” kids as far as your heart is concerned. Legal custody and emotional adoption are two different matters. You don’t need a court order to emotionally adopt these children you share a home with. You need resolve. You need a conscious investment of being all in, just like you would if they were your bio kids. Many weddings where there are non bio children of either the bride or groom include making vows not only to their bride or groom, but to the children of the bride or groom, it’s a beautiful thing. This is a stance you take internally to make this level of commitment to the children.
- Ask your partner what they want and expect from your role as a step-parent. Share what you see as your role also. Identify parenting philosophies and parenting/family values and work as a TEAM and PARTNERSHIP in building these into practice.
- Be open and humble. You are learning how to build a relationship with children who didn’t get a vote in having you be in their own home and lives. If you’ve never been a parent, be willing to place any preconceived notions about how children “ought” to behave and how parents “ought” to parent in one hand, and then open the other hand to receive new insights from your lived experiences with these children.
- Know these kids well. Most likely, you weren’t there from the very beginning, but you can invest in discovering on a regular basis how these young and growing beings tick, just as their bio parent hopefully does with them also. The deeper you know and understand them, the better.
- Reserve discipline for the bio parent unless there is a very deep and secure attachment or emotional bond that you’ve created with these children. Support their bio-parent’s discipline, but save the most confrontational enforcement of it or initiation of it for their bio parent unless you have this secure attachment where they feel safe enough to just be themselves even if it’s not how YOU want them to be, which takes a lot of time and trust to develop.
- If you have shared children with their bio parent, do NOT show favoritism to “your” child. It hurts the whole family. It creates wedges between your child and their siblings just as it would in non-blended families. Be very self-aware and intentional about with this.
- Your partner shouldn’t feel like a single parent when you are with them, or you’re not doing your job unless they want you to leave the parenting up to just them. But if not, this will put a strain on them and your relationship because single parenting is one of THE hardest jobs on the planet. This is why I call it a step-in parent, because they shouldn’t feel like a single parent if you’re there stepping up or stepping in, unless your partner doesn’t want you to be very involved. Hopefully this won’t be an area of ambiguity, and if it is, talk and clarify as you go.
Your role as a step-in-parent is tremendously important and valuable, though it is often so under-appreciated and under-recognized. It’s tough, it’s challenging, and will cause you to grow, but the reward is having the very fulfilling and satisfying feeling of building your family UP, no matter what DNA comes from where or who. You are leaving a legacy that goes above and beyond DNA, but is made by sweat and tears from the labor of LOVE. It will strengthen your marriage, your family, and yourself. It’s not for the faint at heart. It takes tremendous courage and commitment to be a step-in parent, but don’t all things in life that mean so much?