When a couple gets together and, whether it’s one or both adults who have a child, you will find that you are not only nurturing the relationship with your new partner but also their child, too. There can be often be little tickles for all involved as you focus over time on developing relationships with the loved ones in your life as well as the ex-partner who is the child’s mum or dad.
Another part of family life is where both parents have children from previous relationships, when they all come together as one unit; a modern day blended family. There’s no doubt the dynamics of a blended family or a new step-parent can be hard as you want to do what feels right when it comes to parenting, getting to know one another, setting expectations and supporting decisions made for the child and of your new family. As every family and situation is unique and different, there is no one right or wrong way when adapting to your new life. Often, if the relationship is positive - where both separated parents can co-parent amicably - this makes parenting decisions and communication a lot easier - it allows everyone to move on as best as they can.
However, this is not always the case. When there is conflict, resistance or disagreements about how the other parents their child or children, this can create pressure for everyone - including the child or children involved. In the case of being a new step-parent, there are a few ideas to help you transition into the this new found role. The key is to create positive expectations by taking it slowly, being patient, allowing space and time to nurture the relationships as well as supporting one another in your parenting roles.
Allow time, space and patience
When a child is introduced to a new partner and vice versa, it can be a big moment for all involved. Mixed emotions of nervousness, excitement, fear and intrigue can take over. It’s important for you as the adult to make sure that your own expectations of how this new relationship will go are realistic. Sometimes, children may see you (their parent’s new partner) as somebody who will take all their parent’s free time away, meaning less special time with them. Also, some children see a new partner as someone who will take over the role of their own mum or dad. If you sense that this is the case, it’s really important to allow yourself time to get to know each other. Be sensitive to how the child or children are feeling and how they may need time, space and reassurance to adjust. With the support of your partner, acknowledge with their child how it might be hard for them to see you as another parent; that you understand how important the other parent is in their life; and that you are not there to replace them. As you and your step-child get to know one another, it’s then that you can share how you care about them and how they are feeling.
Nurture and protect your relationships
Children of all ages are very tuned in to what’s going on around them, no matter what the scenario is; this can impact both positively and negatively on their behaviour and their relationships. It’s really important that both parent and step-parent are observant of the child and any changes to their behaviour. Make sure that your partner is open to talking and listening to their child, and try to keep them updated on what’s going on - once it is age-appropriate. If we forget to talk, our children can begin to imagine the story rather than being reassured about the reality of a situation. Additionally, as the step-parent, it can be tricky to find that balance when managing the children’s behaviour. Generally, their parent sustains the role of disciplining while you remain a support, and it may be over time and what feels right for you all that you become part of it.
When you are busy protecting the children, you also need to remember to protect and nurture your own relationship, too. Keep communication open. Give yourselves that time to understand each other while acknowledging feelings and concerns. For many families, this change can be a very positive one, whether it’s a new step-parent being introduced to children or a blended family finding their way. Having a new person in your life - whether it’s a parent or a child - can create lovely opportunities, new roles and relationships as well as genuine happiness.
If you are concerned about your family situation, you can contact Parents Plus who have publications and specific parenting courses for parenting when separated.
Aoife Lee, Parent Coach for Giraffe Childcare