Support From Your Partner
One of the most important things I've learnt as a step parent is that support from your partner - and supporting each other - is crucial in creating a harmonious home. You're in this together - but too often it can feel like you're dealing with it alone.
This might be the first time you've ever experienced parenting, let alone step parenting, and you may need some help figuring it all out. Maybe you have your own children and it’s the first time you've brought your children together with someone else’s - it's not easy but together, supporting each other, makes it more manageable. As step parents we all need help and support. There'll be many situations where you'll need support from your partner in order to not feel so alone in this completely new and possibly daunting role, but also to feel appreciated and valued for your contribution and for helping to make things go smoothly. The first thing to understand is that you and your partner are likely to disagree on a few things where the children are concerned. Disagreements and conflict within a family are not uncommon but support from your partner can help avoid major arguments or feelings of isolation and alienation if and when there are any issues that arise with your stepchildren.
Many step parents experience situations where their step children ignore them or downright disrespect them and this can be challenging to deal with. When problems like this arise between you and your stepchildren, your partner can often help smooth things over by backing you up and presenting a united front alongside you.
The Stay-at-Home Step Parent
This is often most true if you're the one being the "stay-at-home parent" while your partner goes out to work. Suddenly you're dealing with being a parent without any of the natural authority normally associated with this role. You're suddenly having to enforce house rules, deal with your stepchildren’s schoolwork, meal times, screen time, homework and so on but maybe underlying it all, there may be a fear that your step children will just refuse to do what you ask them to - sometimes they do!
You may be dealing with having too much to do, suddenly finding yourself having to make plans around everyone else, all while not having enough sleep yourself. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, overworked and under-appreciated.
It's only natural to occasionally think about your "old life" and all the freedom you had before step kids. It's also natural if you feel slightly resentful of your partner being able to go off to work and not have to deal with the children day in day out. If left unchecked, resentment can cause a huge strain on your relationship. It's important at these times to make sure you plan to have time alone with your partner away from the children and daily life, to reconnect as partners and remember why you're together! Taking responsibility for your own happiness is also important and that means taking time for self-care.
Feeling Acknowledged, Being Appreciated
Simply put - it's easy to feel misunderstood as a step parent and that can feel very lonely. You can feel inadequate as you struggle to learn the ropes and get to know your stepchildren. You may feel like you're just muddling through while trying to manage this new life. Hands up - I've made a lot of mistakes as a stepdad, and at times I've felt like a complete failure. At the beginning I often felt like I was falling short of what was expected of me as a stepdad. I could have used a cheerleader - someone who would tell me I was doing just fine and to keep going. Does this sound familiar?
Your partner may not know you feel like this and may not even know how to make you feel better. Sometimes all they may hear is you telling them what's gone wrong with your day and how the children misbehaved, and that can easily make someone switch off. There are ways to get the support you need and that means talking to your partner and sometimes asking them directly.
You may need to give suggestions to your partner and explain:
"I know I don't always get it right, but it would really mean a lot to me if you told me occasionally that I'm doing a good job and that you notice when something is going well. I really need to hear you say sometimes things like:
- You work hard at helping the children with their homework and I appreciate that.
- Thank you for being so patient when the house becomes a crazy place to be
- Thank you for cooking this amazing meal for us
- I really appreciate you doing the school run twice each day
Sometimes everyday things you do can get taken for granted. A simple ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.
All this considered being a step parent is a huge amount for any person to take on without any support. You're parenting together and that means agreeing on how things should be together. What help and support do you think you need from your partner?
- Setting house rules and consequences
- Agreeing boundaries
- Being comfortable with the role you have as a step parent
- Agreeing rules with both sets of children and making sure they get treated the same
- Making sure you get time to yourself
- Making sure your partner has your back in important situations
- Communicating and agreeing on decisions that affect you.
Set aside some time with your partner to go through your list and see if you can come up with a plan that you both agree on. Talking with your partner is of course very important, but there are other ways you can also find support.
- Find a local step parent support group - either in your community or online. If you haven't already done so, please join my Facebook group The Stepparent Family
- Work with a coach, either individually or with your partner - to create an action plan for a happier step family for all of you.
- Consider therapy if step parenting is bringing up deeper more complex personal issues. Read step parenting books and magazines for help and advice
Differences In Parenting
One area where tensions can arise is in parenting styles. Whether you have children of your own or not, you'll have your own opinions of what good parenting looks like based on how you yourself were parented.
Your way of disciplining children may be in complete contrast to your partner's, you may have different views on things like screen time limits or rules about household chores. Communicating with your partner becomes even more critical to be able to recognise your different styles and how to make them both work together - to find a middle ground!
If you constantly disagree about discipline or chores for example, this can lead to resentment and ultimately drive a wedge between you both. Discuss how you both feel and come to a satisfactory conclusion where you are both happy. Ultimately, you both want what's best for the children - for them to grow up healthy and happy, which might mean just a little bit of give and take in terms of how you parent together.
Our parenting style is often the result of how we were parented. Either we parent the same way our parents did, or we do the total opposite. I've heard many clients explain how they hate being strict with their own children because growing up with too strict parents was so painful and unhappy. You and your partner may have had very different upbringings, but it doesn't mean you can't agree on the kind of home life you want to create for yourselves.
Take a look at the 4 different parenting styles below. Which one do you identify most with? Which one is your partner?
The 4 Parenting Styles
Parenting experts commonly refer to four different styles of parenting:
* Authoritative – considered the most effective form of parenting for most children. Authoritative parents have high expectations and goals for their kids. These are tempered with an understanding of their kids' limits. These parents are willing to communicate flexibly. This can make parent-child communication easier.
* Neglectful - neglectful parenting can simply mean a lack of time spent with the child. Neglectful parents may be unfamiliar with their kids' teachers and friends. They may not care for their kids' basic needs. This type of parenting is rarely practiced on purpose. It’s important to recognise if you or someone you know has this parenting style. This type of parenting can be damaging to kids long-term.
* Permissive - permissive parents are nurturing, loving, and supportive. But they can take this too far. They often would prefer to be their child's friend than their parent. Permissive parents may avoid conflict at any cost. They rarely enforce their own rules. Doing this can be harmful for children, as they thrive on routine.
* Authoritarian - Authoritarian is not the same as authoritative parenting. Authoritarian parents are strict and demanding with their children. Their parenting style is not often flexible. They generally rely on punishment to maintain obedience. There is rarely room for open communication between parents and kids.
Often we learn our parenting styles from how we ourselves were parented. Recognising our own parenting style can make it easier to communicate with our partners. No matter what type of parenting style you may have, we all need support. We all question whether we are good enough parents and whether we are doing things right. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and tell yourself that mistakes are there to learn from.
It's good to have the support of your partner, but remember they need support too. Bio parents have invited you into their lives and have trusted you with their children. This brings its own challenges. They may be dealing with their own issues of guilt and feeling like a failure as a parent.
Keeping the channels of communication open and talking things through is key.
Support each other and parent as a unit.