Adjusting to life as a step-parent

Step-parenting can be difficult, but it's also one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have. Here are a few tips to help make the adjustment a little bit easier.

Becoming a step-parent can be a difficult adjustment. When you’re coming into a new family, you may be faced with parenting decisions that you’re unsure how to handle, especially if you haven’t had much experience with children before.

You may feel like an outsider in your new family, or perhaps you find it difficult to get along with your step-kids. However, it’s normal to feel this way when becoming a step-parent. It’s a significant change in your lives, and your emotions will reflect that. It can help to understand more about the legalities of the process and how to begin balancing your role as a step-parent.

What legal rights does a step-parent have?

A step-parent doesn’t have any official legal custody over the children of their new family. When you have no official authority, this can affect your relationship with your step-children, especially if you feel like you’re not ‘validated’ in being their step-parent.

However, step-parents can apply to become legal guardians. You can record an agreement with the child’s biological parent if you’re their spouse or legal partner. This agreement states that the step-parent has parental responsibility for the child. You’ll have the same amount of legal authority and responsibility for your step-child as their biological parent does.

How can I co-parent my step-children?

Blending families is always an adjustment, not just for you but also for the family you’re joining. You may feel like an outsider if you’re not part of the biological family.

You may want to discuss with your partner how they like to parent their children. If you join their family and immediately begin changing consistent rules and being overly-strict, your step-children may start to resent you. Instead, take notes about your partner’s parenting style and do your best to follow their rules. After all, they know their children best.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t feel guilty for becoming a step-parent. Although it can be a big change for children, you should feel comfortable in your new family. Just because your step-children aren’t your biological children doesn’t make you less worthy of parenting them. 

Show interest in your step children’s life. Let them know that you’re there for them if they need support or company. Spending time together is an excellent way to bond, so offer to take them places or seek them out when they’re at home. When you make an effort to bond, you can both feel comfortable with your new dynamic.

How can I fit in with my extended family?

When you become a step-parent, you may have to deal with your partner’s extended family members. If your partner is divorced but still keeps in touch with their ex-partner or ex-partner’s family, this may be multiple new families you have to deal with.

You may experience anxieties over fitting in. However, it’s important to remember that, as a step-parent, your priorities lie with your immediate family. As long as your partner and step-children are happy with your family life, don’t worry about extended family members who may judge your dynamic. There’s no singular way for a family to look, and as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.

What happens when I don’t like my step-child?

Sometimes the adjustment period doesn’t work out well. You might find that your step-child doesn’t warm up to you or that they’re difficult to deal with. This can be disheartening, especially if you’re living under the same roof, as you have to share the same space and may feel uncomfortable if you’re in a communal room at the same time. 

If you don’t get along with your step-child, you can try and talk with them about it. Perhaps they feel resentful because you’re not their biological parent, or they’re jealous because they now have to share their parent with you. It can be tricky to get them to talk to you, but trying is the first step.

If you still don’t see eye to eye, see if there’s anything your partner can suggest, as they’ll know more about their child than you do. Of course, you shouldn’t make your partner be the middleman between the both of you (as this is unfair to them), but they might suggest something you haven’t thought about. 

Even if you harbour ill feelings towards your new step-child, you should try not to let negative feelings affect your behaviour when you’re together, as this will only widen the rift between you. Family counselling is also an option if you can’t figure out this problem.

Final thoughts from Kami 

Being a step-parent doesn’t come without its challenges, even if you feel well-adjusted. When you enter into a family dynamic, it’s essential to respect the parent relationship that existed before you and adjust your parenting style based on what your partner already uses. You’re much more likely to foster a long-term positive relationship with your step-children if you do this. No parent and child dynamic is ever the same, but being respectful is a great place to start as you navigate step-parenthood.

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