I am Pam Masters, a collaborative family lawyer. I am a settlement specialist. I guide couples on the difficult journey of divorce without court involvement. I do this to reduce trauma to children, preserve financial assets and achieve better outcomes for my clients.
Some of the most difficult cases that I deal with involve step-parenting relationships, where the biological parent is upset that the step-parent is intervening in something to do with their child. They’re disciplining the child or inserting themselves into something that the parents need to decide.
Today I’m going to give some effective guidelines for step parenting, there are 8 of them:
1. Never talk negatively about your spouse’s ex to the children, it’s always important to remember that the other parent is still the parent of the children, no matter how much you disagree with the other parent or how angry they may get at you, it’s important never to bad mouth them to the children. This might be difficult, especially if the child is complaining to you about something their biological parent is doing. It’s better to listen with an empathetic ear & be a source of support for the child who is going through something difficult with a parent. The issue will eventually resolve itself, but if you’ve said something negative this is going to stay with the child; who may then resent you for it once they’ve patched things up with their parent.
2. You should not discipline your step children. This is the line not to cross that might not seem fair. It is easy to get caught up in the anger & intensity of an argument, but it’s better to keep your cool, walk away, and wait to talk to your spouse about what happened, rather than to discipline the children. Your spouse should be the one to impose the punishment that occurs based on his & his ex’s family values of discipline. This does not mean that you let your step children abuse you & take advantage of you, it is important to remember that your roll is different than it would be if these were your own children.
3. Don’t try to take the place of your spouse’s ex. Depending on the circumstances, the other parent might not be in the child’s life: there might be a death or significant mental illness. This does not give you permission to slip into the roll of mom or dad. The child has a mom or a dad & it’s not you. The child has the right to love their mom or dad while still having a close relationship with you as a step parent.
4. Do not put yourself in the middle between your new spouse & their children. While it might be tempting to get on the kid’s good side by disagreeing with your spouse, it’s not a good idea in the long run & will backfire on you at some point. It’s still important to put on a unified front with your spouse. The child might resent you for butting into their business, so it’s best for your spouse and the children to work out the issues on their own. If you’re asked for help, that’s a different story, but it’s still important not to go overboard and take over.
5. Don’t put yourself in the middle between your spouse’s ex and their children either. Remember, you’re not the parent. It’s not your place to try and override the other parents decisions about the children, even if you disagree with them.
6. Don’t ignore the wishes of your spouse’s ex in relation to the children. For example: if your spouse’s ex doesn’t want the children to eat past 8 p.m., it’s not wise to break that rule. The kids need to see that you respect their other parent and that you’re a good role model for them.
7. Don’t engage in a parenting discussion with your spouse or his or her ex. This is a sticky situation. While it’s important for your marriage to be a point of support for your spouse, particularly when it comes to their relationship with their ex and children, it’s better to be done privately. It’s also important to remember that when it comes to their children, the decisions need to be the parents decisions. If you voice your option against and in front of the ex, they might become resentful and make things difficult for you and your spouse. It’s best if you can attempt to have a good relationship with your spouse’s ex if possible.
8. Don’t feel jealous when your spouse and their children want some one-on-one time, or even if your spouse and their ex want some one on one time with the children. It’s important for your spouse and the children to know they can still have alone time without you, and that you’re okay with that. Many children whose parents are in a new relationship feel insecure, and might think that their parent loves their new spouse more than they love them. It’s important for the kid to have close bond with both parents, and it could become a significant family problem if you, as the step parent, have a problem because of that. This is the most challenging thing you might ever do, and in some ways you get the bad and not the good, right? You have to take care of the children as if they were your own, but you can’t always assert yourself in some circumstances. But for the peace of the family, for the health of the chicken who need to have an intact relationship with their mom and their dad s much as possible even though they’re not still married, a step parent has to have really strong, clear boundaries and maintain them.