I’ve openly shared through Key to Kids that I am a step parent. It still feels strange to say that, and it certainly is not something I ever thought I’d be. I recall different people I encountered over the years mention that they had a partner with children from a previous marriage and I never gave it another thought. But when you do give it a second thought, It’s a pretty major thing. Merging two families… two sets of rules (no one plays Uno in the same language!), expectations and guidelines. There are bound to be hiccups along the way.
When my partner and I first got together it was euphoric. Those early giddy days of being in love, especially for the second time, were feelings I never thought I’d feel again. I relished every moment and longed for the next time we would see each other. Our lives were busy with the usual stuff… work, family, house duties and…. Kids.
As the relationship grew so did the time we spent together, looking for opportunities for our children to spend together and become familiar with each other. We’d celebrate the victories (‘Sure, you can have a sleepover in each other’s room!’) and squirmed at the rough times (‘It’s time to have some quiet time apart’). When reflecting, it was just like managing my own children – they are both different with varying times of loving each other and despising each other.
Being a significant ‘other’ parenting figure in another family’s life is a big responsibility. There’s a fine line between keeping a good relationship and making sure they put their bowl in the sink and washing in the basket. The lack of familiarity requires careful steps, steps that I would normally ‘stomp’ through with my own children.
In my teaching career I have learned that the better your relationship is with a child, the greater success you have in achieving results. Not just academic results, but emotional and social results also. Results that better the life of a child. I equate this to step parenting.
Though the road is long and I’m just at the beginning, this belief has resulted in success. I’m not saying that things don’t make me angry or frustrated with my partner’s children, but I am saying that for each situation I assess ‘how will this impact on our relationship?’ Once I can answer that question, I default to one of two options. I either follow through (with the little stuff) or I hand ball it to their dad (for the big stuff).
Tension in any family can be stressful, but when you are dealing with someone else’s kids it moves it up a notch. If I’ve learned anything in my years as a teacher and parent educator it’s that the more objective we can be in our problem solving and discussions, the more effective the outcome.
When children (and partners) feel as though we are pointing the finger and accusing them of being the source of the problem, their natural response is to defend themselves. Being defensive can often lead to resentment, which is detrimental to the relationship we are trying so desperately to build.
I’m so thankful that I have the skills that Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish gave me, they have set me up for my own children and now given me strategies and strength with my partner’s children. I doubt I’ll ever sit back and think ‘yep, I’m the best parent ever!’ and I’d be extremely doubtful of any parent who does!
Parenting is hard, relentless but rewarding. Step parenting is hard, relentless but rewarding. Be real and be kind to yourself. Celebrate success and when things aren’t great… take a deep breath and start again.