Introducing a step-parent can be one of the hardest aspects of parenting after separation. This is true for the step-parent, the biological parent and the children involved. Why is it, though, that in some cases it would seem that step-parenting happens very easily and runs smoothly, but in other cases it does not?
Well, there are so many variations of step-parent families. Really, no two families are the same. Let us think about the one-house step-parent family. This may be the least ‘complicated’ family form when it comes to step-parenting, consisting of one biological parent, children and a step-parent who has no children of their own, and where the second biological parent does not have any involvement in the parenting of the children. It enables the parent who is parenting to engage in a new relationship without having to explain to another parent what is happening, or to support children in understanding that their new step-parent is not taking over any other existing role in the family.
Children can adapt very quickly to this new family form. They key is the biological parent allowing the step-parent in and giving them permission to support them in their role of parenting. This will, of course, require taking lots of time with the children to support them in understanding the new roles in the family. Once handled thoughtfully and openly, and both adults understand and agree with the style of parenting implemented in the home, it can go really well. Remember that the new step-parent will have no experience of parenting, so will need time to observe and understand, and children must be supported as they will not be familiar with a second adult telling them what to do. However, when children are treated with respect, they can adapt to new adults in their life. The one key thing that children can find very hard in this family situation is learning to share their biological parent with a new person. In many cases, the parent and child/ren may have spent many years with it being just them, so allowing a new person to join the family can be hard, but will be worth the effort if it is the right person.
Some top tips for this family form:
  • Introduce the new adult in your life only once the relationship is stable.
  • Allow your child develop their own positive relationship with this new person.
  • Ensure you still have plenty of one-to-one time with your child, and talk with them about your new relationship.
  • Talk with your child in as much detail as is age-appropriate when/if the time comes for this person to move into the family home, or if you are planning marriage.
  • Involve your child in these plans, and develop new house rules together.
  • Support your new partner to parent – allow them into the parenting role.
  • The new step-parent may need to get some external support of their own around parenting and living in a busy child-led home.
  • Don’t forget about couple time; couple time is as important as parent time and will keep you both going, and keep your child happy.
  • Never mislead your child. Be honest about who their biological parent is. Call your new partner by their first name, and do not be tempted to give them to Mum/Dad names.
  • Keep communicating, and it will work out.
Next time, we will look at introducing step-parents in a two-house family.
Parent Mentor