This phrase probably best describes being a stepparent. Let's face it being a parent is one of the hardest jobs you can do to begin with and then add into that equation, someone else's children in your home, or you into their home and boom!
Over the years I have seen so many marriages, second and third marriages, crumble because of the issues of dealing with someone else's kids. Mom has come through a bad divorce and the only thing she has emotionally left in her bank comes around her kids. Dad has been with his little girl for a while now and she has him around her little finger and now there's another 'girl' in his life? Competition for the affection of an adult to the child and the child having to share their parent with another person can be difficult at best.
Sure there are so many Brady Bunch success stories out there. You know, "here's the story of a lovely lady who was bringing up...." well if you don't know, google it, or watch T.V. Land. I wish that every step family had nothing but success in their homes but it's not the truth and I won't lie to you. IT'S HARD IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE!
Think about a child that is going into a new family dynamic with a "new parent", that is someone that they know but not really. A child, a teen, a student has had several years to bond with their parent and now this new person wants to tell me that they love me, care for me, and want to be in my life. Sure you do! Hey, it's going to take some time. You can't just jump in and be super stepparent all at one time. So if you are a stepparent, buckle up for the push back you will receive from the child or teen. Too many "stepparents are often surprised and discouraged by the conflicts they have in their three primary relationships having to do with adolescent: the teen, their spouse, and the other parent.
So what are you to do? Well let's look at you and the teen first.
- Know what's going on inside the teen. Most students secretly, and sometimes not so secretly, want their parents to get back together. To have that story book home with mom, dad, and children make three; picket fence and dinner around the table. Well at least in their minds they do. The reality is that's not happening and YOU are the one that is messing that up! That may mean that the teen is rude to you, disrespectful, and defiant! To be honest with you, most of that is 'normal' teen behavior to parents but you become the lightening rod in this relationship.
- Have patience and persistence in establishing a connection. Do things that the teen likes to do, at least to a certain degree. You don't have to become like them, especially in dress, speech, and cool factor! You are still a parent and not their buddy. Get to know them in their world. Be careful here don't become the parent stalker but know what is going on in their world. Sure they will still have some disdain for you but you are trying for the long haul; a long term solid relationship with them.
- Do NOT try to replace the other parent. The mind of a student can be a battle ground trying to keep up with everything; now place another parent in the mix. Don't try to replace the other parent that is not in their immediate life. Oh yeah, when you hear, not IF you hear; "You are not my parent!" you can honestly respond by saying, "You're right I'm not, I'm just trying to..." The only thing you can really do here is to listen, be aware, empathize with them and be there.
- Let the biological parent be in charge of the discipline at first. This step is the one that seems to cause the most problem from my observations of step families. Somewhere in this marriage in the future you may have to be the one that does the discipline but you can't start off that way. Sure you may seem some behavior that you don't approve of or you don't do with your child in the same home but remember it's not your child. So how do you do this? Well you tell the biological parent tell the child that you guys are on the same page and you have decided that .... This way the discipline not only comes from the biological parent but the stepparent as well. Not just one bad guy here but two that care.
- Be super sensitive to you spouse's needs and concerns. Put yourself into their shoes so to speak. Think about how you would feel if the roles were reversed and your child is with someone that you didn't know that well in their home. Let your spouse know you are supportive of them and their parenting. Ask how you can help them. When they respond you can have a more clear direction of what to do next. Don't come in by saying, "Let me tell you what you should have done." Not helpful, you are in this together, not in a superior role.
- Allow you spouse to experience your connection with the teen. The best way to show character, love and humility is for your spouse to see you try with their teen. Sure they may not understand, the teen may push you away, but you are loving the child that they love.
- Address questions about parenting skills. Talk about what role you will fill. When will you be entrusted with discipline, guidelines and rules? You cannot over communicate in this part of the marriage. If you are more forceful or 'over bearing' talk about it. It may be that you are not at all but that the biological parent is 'softer or gentler' than you are.
- Involve your spouse. Remember they know the ex better than you do and they know how better to handle and talk to them. You have a teen that is your long term care and a spouse that you want to take care of in this relationship. If there is no relationship between you and the ex then make sure that you support your spouse. Let them be in charge and you support them.
- Respect the other parent. No matter whether you respect the other parent or not know that they have suffered loss in the marriage; even if it was their own doing. Even if you don't agree with their values in life, this is still their teen that you have in your home. If possible have conversations about disciplines, homework, curfews, etc. This allows them to know that you do care about their child's well being.
Remember, you married someone you love. One of the best ways to love you spouse is by helping them love their kids in the most supportive way possible. Give up controls, be humble in a true meaningful way, and earn your place in the family dynamics you have chosen.
I former minister told me years ago that when there's A New Face In The Frame! that it's the hardest job he has ever had to go through. So if you are in this situation, know you are not alone; others have had to look at A New Face In The Frame!