Stepping into a new parenting role

Step-parenting requires boundaries, respect, expert says

Every mom and dad knows that child rearing is tough ground to navigate, but for step-parents, that ground can often be a bit more treacherous.

Internationally acclaimed parenting expert Alyson Schafer told Parenting Times that whether you are new to step-parenting or a seasoned veteran, knowing what role you play as a step-parent isn’t nearly as important as knowing your role as a partner.

“The important thing is that there is love and respect within your relationship.

That transcends everything.

If you want to have a strong family, it starts with a strong partnership of the adults. That’s going to speak volumes to kids – to see a healthy, loving, respectful relationship happening with the grown-ups,” she explains.

“I feel like the expression of family is a group of people who love one another – the idea is that you’re consciously building a family and we don’t have to get too wrapped up into these roles.”

She also advises parents and step-parents to be mindful and respectful of the fact that the child did not sign up to have their parents divorce or have a new person come into their life.

“We want to make sure that we never put the child in a position where they would feel a sense of split loyalties between their biological parents and the step-parents coming into the relationship,” says Schafer.

“In order to facilitate that, we want to make sure that all the adults never badmouth any of the other parents, biological or otherwise. We’re trying to put the kids’ psychological health first.”

It’s also important for step-parents to keep their expectations in check and to understand that a child will grieve what once was.

“We need time to build the new family that we’re creating and there’s a process involved. I think patience is important.

Keep your expectations reasonable for that transition and don’t take it personally if the child wants to scream at you or be mad at you,” Schaefer explains.

“It’s not all going to be smooth sailing. You start with respect, then you try to build a friendship – playing together, taking an interest in one another, creating your own rituals – and maybe love will start to develop.”

Schafer says the biological parent should always be the disciplinarian, but that doesn’t mean all rules are tossed aside when the step-parent is in charge. Her best advice in order to establish a healthy amount of trust and respect between step-parents and stepchildren is to have weekly family meetings where families can co-create the rules that everyone is expected to live by and talk about the consequences for breaking those rules.

She also encourages families to find family fun.

“That is something that is missing in most families today because we’re so busy that we forget to play,” Schafer says.

“You’re trying to create new relationships and play is the natural way that people bond, especially children. I would really just amp that up and make sure it doesn’t slip off the agenda, as it often does these days.”