Being a stepparent is one of the hardest roles to play in a family and I say this both from my own personal experience as well as my professional training. There are no guarantees that you will actually build that authentic cohesive home. All you do is try, day in, day out until one day you take a step back and realize, “haiya! We have finally got there”. And even then life seasons always throw you a new challenge. This is the reason why many sometimes give up. The rewards do not come as soon as one anticipated, if at all you do get to enjoy such a blessing. Because that’s exactly what it is. A blessing. “Stepparenting is a delicate dance,” says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD. “It’s all about communicating and understanding that blended families have complicated dynamics.”
I have put together 5 of the common mistakes made by stepparents and some expert advice on how to avoid them altogether or bounce back from them if you are already a victim.
Mistake #1: You try to be the cool parent.
I was a culprit of this. I thought my wit and humor would charm my stepchildren into instantly liking and accepting me. I knew all the lyrics to their favorite songs, I am one hell of a cook who would whip up great food and treats which they enjoyed. Heck! I owned an X-box 360 on which we could play all manner of games. Now which kid would love that right? Wrong. Often, stepparents just want to be liked, just like I did. They do this by trying to buy their love through gifts, bending the rules and anything that will make them a coll parent. This is wrong and doesn’t even work. They will accept the treats and gifts but in no way is that a guarantee of their love, so when the do not reciprocate, stepparents get upset and resentful.
The truth is just like with any relationship a bond has to be developed and shared over time. This is not an overnight thing. Take the time to know your stepchildren for who they are and allow then to know you and love you for who you are. Sharing experiences is the only way to build this bond. Once a friendship is formed then trust comes more easily and then acceptance. Try and identify areas you have in common with the kids and do something every so often together and allow them to set the pace of the relationship
Mistake #2: You expect to be one big happy family from the get go
Patricia Papernow, the author of the book “Becoming a stepmom”, says that it takes between 5 – 7 years for a stepfamily to integrate and experience intimacy and authenticity of their step relations. If you think its going to work out fast, think again. It takes time to be “admitted” into the family. Many stepparents give experiences of being invisible to their stepchildren but if they love with deed not just words, over and over again the kids eventually come around and start to acknowledge your presence in their lives. Be patient and remain consistent. Love is the only weapon you need.
Mistake #3: You set super high expectations
It is only normal to feel the pressure to perform your role, to prove all those horrible tales of evil stepmoms wrongs, to set a new standard and strategy to have the holistic home you want with the values you feel are most important. In a nutshell… a control freak. However, all this does is just overwhelm you and exhaust you. Its important to remember that you cannot fix that which you did not break, so quit trying to fix the past and focus on the future. Quit striving for perfection and focus on progress. You will find that you more peace of mind and in the home as well making it the perfect environment for your marriage to blossom and step relations to grow positively.
Mistake #4: You badmouth the other parent.
This is the mother of all mistakes. So many situations will come up that you will disagree or be of a differing opinion an the temptation to speak up will be strong. Don’t. This only works against you. Children will always be loyal to their parents whether they deserve the ‘greatest dad or mom in the world trophy’ or not “Keeping quiet nurtures your bond with your stepchildren because they’ll never feel like you’re making them choose between parents,” says psychotherapist Christina Steinorth.
Now this is not to say you should not raise any concerns you have. These should definitely be discussed with your partner behind closed doors and an agreement reached on the way forward. Do not have this discussion in front of the children.
Mistake #5: You assume the role of a parent immediately.
I loved how Caroline Mutoko put it in one of her video, that we were raised by wolves or ‘simbas’ as my hubby puts it. When parenting was a dictatorship not a democracy. We all turned out pretty ok so its only natural that we would want the same for our children. New stepparents try to discipline without establishing a trust relationship first. Do not fall into this trap. it only leads to mistrust and disrespect, which ultimately leads to the stepchildren not liking you.
You need to invest your time in getting to know the children and sharing in their lives and being a responsible adult yourself for them to look up to or admire. Think of yourself as a loving aunt or uncle. Until you earn their respect limit your parenting to situations where they do something absolutely unacceptable and you are the only one around to stop it.Otherwise let you partner take the lead on parenting and discipline matters.