Being a step parent can be more difficult than being a biological parent. When you are a child’s biological parent, there is no doubt the level of authority you have over your child. You know it, and your child knows it. But a step parent’s role is often more of a gray area. There is a delicate balance between authority and friendship that will ultimately be different in every home, but if you keep these step parenting tips in mind, the road to your new parent-child relationship will be a lot smoother.
1. You are a friend, not a parent. You have heard the saying time and time again from biological parents: “I’m your parent, not your friend.” For biological parents, this is fine. However, unless you become a child’s stepparent when he/she is very young, this mentality will only be met with hostility and rebellion. This goes double for teenagers. If you try to become the “new dad” or “new mom,” a teenager will go out of his/her way to show you how very NOT a real parent you are. Unless you want to enter a power struggle, it’s best to start out as friends first.
2. Offer small gifts of friendship. Yes, these should be tangible at first, but do not get carried away; your stepchild will see right through you. This does not mean you must buy your step daughter a pony if she wants one. Think “small but meaningful.” Is your stepchild stressed out about an upcoming test? Give him your lucky rabbit’s foot from when you were a kid, or take your teenage daughter to Starbucks to celebrate when the test is over.
3. Be available, but not overbearing. This is probably the most important tip, but it can be hard to find the delicate balance between building a relationship with your stepchild and crowding him/her. Ask how her day was, but accept “fine” as a response. Again, this is especially important with teenagers. At this age, kids are much more interested in talking to friends than parents, and you should not take it personally. Show an interest, and then give your stepchild space to open up to you when he/she is ready. Ask your stepchild to tell you about the concert or slumber party last week. Offer to teach your stepchild something: sports, cooking, homework help, etc. If he doesn’t accept your help right away, that’s ok. Let him know that the offer still stands whenever he changes his mind. He will come around eventually, and he will appreciate that you gave him his space.
Follow these tips in your daily interactions with your stepchildren, and they will likely respect you and begin opening up to you soon. If you force yourself into your stepchild’s life and try to take over as the “new dad” or “new mom,” you will have the double duty of first repairing the relationship, then building a positive one.