Splitsville: How To Integrate Step-Parents Into Your Family

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

Blended families aren’t really known for their simplicity. The family structure is rarely predictable and the schedule is hectic, to say the least. But hopefully, every group can find a rhythym that works for them. It takes lots of communication and plenty of give-and-take, but a compromise can be reached!

Once a family hits this precarious balance, it’s hard to break from the habit. You begin to build a routine and no one wants to throw a screw in the system. And nothing alters a blended families balance more than a new addition.

That’s right! Enter the step-parents. We had to talk about it sooner or later friends. Step-parents have such a horribly false stereotype swarming around their title. They are constantly seen as the disruption instead of the addition, and I can completely see why. Like I said, you have a set structure and it’s difficult to change that around. But step-parents are more than a wrench in the family machine, they are another set of adults to love and guide your kids. Step-parents have to be seen as an asset if you’re going to come together as a family to support your kids.

I realize that everyone has a crazy “new wife” or a horrible “new dad” story. I’m not saying that those difficult situations don’t exist. Sometimes, they’re serious enough that you fear for the safety or well-being of your child. More often, they’re personality clashes that parents continue to argue about instead of getting over their differences and trying to do what’s best for the kids caught in the middle. In all but the most serious issues, I think the goal should always be to get along, not prove whose nicer, cooler or gives the best birthday gifts.

  • Discuss the terms of the contract. How much authority do the step-parents carry? Are they free to discipline as they see fit or do you need to have an agreed upon system no matter what house the kisd are at? Do step-parents sit in at parent-teacher conferences? Do they take the kids away overnight by themselves? Any possible limitation that you want to put on a step-parent has to be discussed explicitly and written down. I know of a step-mom who took her step-daughter to get her hair cut. The mom was furious! But if you’ve never said that this was a big deal to you, that step-mom has no way of knowing the issue she’s about to create.
  • Give them one-on-one time. Kids need to time bond with their step-parents on their own. It will give them a chance to communicate without the mommy  or daddy translation and coaching. They can find interests they share. The kids will be able to relate to their step-parents as parents, instead of as “Mommy’s friend.”
  • Let the kids choose the names. It’s amazing how much people worry over a name. The parents and step-parents shouldn’t be the ones deciding on everyone’s title. Children have a wonderful way of coming up with names that fit their needs and express their feelings. And you can’t get bent out of shape if it wasn’t the title your hoping for.
  • Look at the positives. Your children have more people to relate to, more people who care about them and more adults looking for them. That’s a pretty wonderful thing. Stop worrying about all the imperfections and take a minute to appreciate that extra set of hands sewing the costume for the school play or another enthusiastic fan on the soccer bleachers. If you think that your children are lucky to have step-parents, so will they.