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Five Tips for Becoming a Step-Parent

By Charles Hopkins Published 06/1/2006 | Parenting
It is challenging enough to commit to a life partner, but more so if you are becoming a step-parent for the first time.

About 46% of marriages are now ending in divorce and two thirds of remarriages involve children from prior marriages. So it is probable that if you are single and childless, your future partner will be divorced with one or more children. If this is the case, then there are many possible domestic arrangements for the children. For example, they reside with one parent but the other parent may have access every weekend, or fortnightly on Sundays, or only during school holidays, only for special occasions such as family birthdays or maybe reside at alternate parental homes for a few days each week. Whatever the arrangement, you will have contact with the children and become part of their life. It is not easy and you need to consider serious issues. Here are five of them:

1. I love my darling but not the children!

Your love for your partner is paramount and must be strong. Love does not automatically become switched on for the step-children, so do not feel guilty. It's not a case of 'Love me, love my children.' Gently tell your partner and demonstrate that fundamentally you respect the children. Your love and interest in them will develop, but it could take time.

2. The children won't talk to me!

Often children are very cautious about trusting their parent's new partner. When expressing their own anxiety, they may ignore you, be demanding or jealous at the time you spend together. Only when they know for certain that you have publicly committed to each other, will they start to trust you and slowly invite you into their lives. Not only have they seen a parent move out but they may have also previously trusted and liked their parent's short-term partners, only to be disappointed and experience more loss when that relationship ends. It is their way of not getting hurt.

3. Am I expected to discipline?

This needs careful discussion with your partner. Discipline is set by the parent, however you will need to be consistent in your expectations and manner and be seen to support your partner. This will also help your step-child to understand boundaries and feel safe and trusted in your presence. There will be times when you disagree with your partner's way of handling discipline or child management. In these moments count slowly to ten, breathe deeply and remember that it will be your step-child who bears the brunt of inconsistency and disharmony and will demonstrate this with their behavior. You will discover that it is the small daily things which aggravate you most such as not hanging up wet towels, poor table manners or not stacking the dishwasher.

4. Do I have the see the ex?

However you feel, try to remain dignified and calm. There may be much emotion from everyone, including ex-spouses, grandparents, uncles and aunts who are expressing their loss, anger or sense of failure with the new domestic arrangements. Family gatherings can be tense but keep persevering and give some of your time, offer food dishes, choose presents or cards with your partner. You may be fortunate and everyone is delighted that you are now on the scene, so enjoy it and count it as an unexpected enrichment.

5. Is step-parenting forever?

Like parenting, step-parenting is forever. You may think that it is over once your step-child reaches young adulthood and in one sense the hands - on demands do become less. Instead your role as a parent figure comes to the fore. Hopefully after years of step-parenting, enough trust and confidence will have built up so that your step-child will request your advice re further studies, vocation, job opportunities, choice of cars. Down the track you may also become a step-grandparent but by then you will be experienced enough to take this in your stride.

As with anything we do, the more effort we put into something, the more satisfaction we gain. It is the same for step-parenting. There are often no thanks for the extra challenges, but step-children do become part of your life and extended family. Becoming a step-parent is not easy, but with consideration of various issues such as the above, your chances of a successful life partnership with a ready made family, are increased.