We talk a lot about stepparenting on this blog. However, successful stepparenting is integrally dependent upon the role the children’s parent (the partner you the stepparent live with) plays in the family. As a family rebuilds itself and creates a new identity, the parent remains the key link between past, present, and future.
I’ve researched, witnessed, and been told stories about three key ways a parent can strengthen the stepfamily and enhance the children’s self esteem. If you are a stepparent, try reading these to your spouse. Do they sound reasonable, plausible, sensible?
1. Be the central hub of the stepfamily.
You, the parent, are a bridge between your spouse and your children. You facilitate communication, direct traffic, ward off accidents, and manage any crises that occur. Jean McBride, Executive Director of the Colorado Center for Life Changes, says that the parent provides the equilibrium in the family, “like a stabilizer on an airplane.”
Over time, a stepparent who has worked on building some trust with the stepchildren can take turns sitting at stepfamily central. Having been a stepparent for fourteen years, I can say that our kids still look to their father for an overall sense of stability, but they are starting to recognize some of my strengths.
2. Be the main disciplinarian in your stepfamily.
Your kids can miss out on the chance to grow a trusting relationship with your spouse (the stepparent) if he or she is doling out the discipline. Adam (the stepparent) and Lily (the parent) embody a wonderful example of handling stepfamily discipline. Lily takes the lead. But Adam will step in to held mediate conflict, with the goal of making sure the girls respect their mother…NOT to make them listen to his rules.
Over time the parent can direct the children to follow the stepparent’s discipline in certain situations. For example, if Lily is going to be away for the weekend, she makes sure to tell the girls that Adam is in charge and they are to respect him.
3. Be physically available (present) and emotionally available (interested).
It comes down to this. Spend time with your kids. Make sure they know when to rely on you being around. Listen to what they have to say. Share your own feelings about family difficulties, as long as those feelings don’t betray your spouse (the stepparent).
I wouldn’t turn these roles over to the stepparent because, even as the kids start to need this attention from the stepparent too, their self esteem partially depends upon your blessings.
Granted, this is the ideal picture of the parent role after a divorce or after the death of the children’s other parent. Next Wednesday I’ll blog about what could be blocking a parent from maintaining this position in the family.
Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in Northern Colorado. For more information on her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, go to www.dianefromme.com