The Dynamics and Challenges of Being a Step Parent

Think back to those beloved fairy tales you enjoyed as a child and notice how the step parent is portrayed. Stories such as “Cinderella”, “Hansel and Gretel”, and “Snow White”, all had a wickedly evil step mother cast in the role of the villainess. Could this have been based on first hand knowledge? Was it based on how life actually was being played out during these early times? Or were these tales involving a dastardly step parent just the results of vivid imaginations at work?

It doesn’t really matter whether these old stories were rooted in truth or fiction, but what does matter is the fact that many people still associate today’s step parenting behaviors with those demonstrated by the characters portrayed in those old stories. You can rationalize it all you want, but a great many people automatically think there are only a couple of degrees of separation between a step parent and the Prince of Darkness himself.

This means that step parents are quite literally finding themselves “behind the 8 ball” before the game even gets started. No wonder some of the best romances find that as soon as thoughts turn to marriage and blended families, the sun dives for cover and thunderclouds gather overhead.

Often the most ardent flames of passion and love can sputter and fizzle under the stress and issues that any step parent must deal with. Is there a way to maneuver through this emotional minefield without creating undue heartache to either children or adults?

Of course there is! It all has to do with knowing how to establish the bonds of trust and friendship first. What?! Trust and friendship? What about love?

Good question. This is where many stepparents make assumptions that are incorrect and can create problems in the future. Believe it or not, there are some step families that start out being barely able to tolerate one other.

Hey, even learning to like a person might not happen immediately. Just give it your best shot, and don’t take every issue as a personal attack. Remember that you are the adult and you have to set the standards concerning appropriate and polite behavior.

Love takes time. What you have to do in those first important months (and sometimes years) is to create a foundation of friendship which includes honest communication and the establishment of trust.

Unconditional love is great, if it actually hits you like a bolt of lightning from out of the blue. However for most stepparents and stepchildren it is learning to be friends, growing to like each other, respect each other and trusting each other that are the early issues of step parenting that must be dealt with. This foundation will provide you with the emotional building blocks you need to create a healthy relationship that will one day include love for each other.

Do not attach a timetable and try to make the relationship between you and your stepchildren go any faster or slower than normal. Children are exceptionally aware of any such “shenanigans” and may feel as though you are trying to play them. Which in a way, you would be.

As a step parent, what you need to do is to establish normal boundaries, ordinary and reasonable family rules and everyone should be encouraged to do their best to obey these guidelines. Letting your stepchildren rule the household because you are afraid of creating conflict is going to be one of the worst things you could possibly do. Discipline and rewards are part of life in any family and they need to be part of step family life as well.

Don’t try to replace the biological mother or father, but make your own place in the family unit. There is room enough for a step parent and both biological parents to co-exist together in the lives of the children. Showing this kind of acceptance, forgiveness, support, non-judgmental attitude and openness to your step children will win you more points than any other action. Let them know you are there for them and that you care about them. That is what is truly important at this time.

Be open, be accepting, and be responsible as a step parent and you will discover that you and your step children are developing mutual trust and respect as you bond. Ignore the temptation to engage in behavior only suitable for viewing on a “Step Parent Gone Wild” video. The love will come, and when it does you will all know it.

Now go out there and prove those fairy tales wrong.

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