Key Points to Remember
- Early in remarriage biological parents need to remain primary caregivers and disciplinarians. Handing off the children to the new stepparent sabotages his or her ability to build a relationship.
- Early in remarriage parents should empower stepparents by communicating to the children their expectation of obedience. Later, even if you disagree with what the stepparent has done in your absence, support his or her position with the children. Then take your disagreement behind closed doors and work out a unified plan and consequences for the next offense.
- Stepparents need to grow into their relationship with stepchildren. Be friendly at first and support the house rules. Seek to be mutually suitable with your stepchildren and enjoy the relationship you have now.
- Encourage and insist that children maintain regular, consistent contact with the parent living in the other home. Do your best to have a functional co-parent relationship.
- Let children set the pace for their relationship with the stepparent. Consider each child individually. Give and expect affection, nurturance, and emotional sharing only to the degree children appear open to it.
- Parents should consider the stepparent’s input into child rearing. It is easy for parents who are used to having complete control over their children to discount the stepparent’s perspective. Keep in mind that, as outsiders, stepparents can see things your blind spots prevent you from seeing. Listen and consider their input.
- Stepparents need to learn to be a nonjudgmental sounding board for parents. When parents get frustrated with their own children, they may confide in the stepparent. However, stepparents who begin to agree and add their own frustration may find their spouse reversing position to defend the child. The parent-child bond is indeed a protective one. Stepparents would do well to listen and affirm without criticizing the child. “I can see you are angry at Jane for lying to us. What do you suggest we do?”
- Finally, but most important, effective parent-stepparent teams begin with healthy marriages. Take time to nurture your relationship, date on a regular basis, learn to communicate and resolve conflict, and enjoy a healthy sexual relationship. Make your marriage a priority!