Working Moms

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Dealing With A Stepchild

It is a known fact that divorces in America is about 50% and that of second marriages is even higher. One of the factors affecting second marriages is the kids that are taken in the marriage from either previous marriage. In some places, there is a saying, “Once you have accepted the cow, you must take the calf.” This is true of the relationship with the spouse and his or her child. It is a recipe for disaster when one goes into such relationship thinking that they will love the spouse, but choose to have an adversarial relationship with the child or child’s other parent. Let’s look at some of the common issues.

Relationship with the Ex-Spouse

If you are reading this, and you have contributed to the breaking up of the marriage, then this section will not be of much since there might be constant bitterness between you and the ex-spouse, otherwise, there should not be reason for animosity, and all parties should work to create harmony the sake of the children in the middle.
After meeting and dating the divorced or single parent with a child, I am assuming that you made a conscious decision to move forward with the relationship. In doing so, you must have known that there has to be and will some interaction between your now spouse and other parent. Parents’ collaboration on issues regarding their child is healthy and should be encouraged; don’t try to prevent that from happening due to any form of jealousy. You should also try to have a relationship with the ex-spouse. If the relationship is amicable enough that all three or probably four parents can meet and discuss joint parenting and shared responsibilities, that is the best scenario, however in the absence of such arrangement, a best effort attempt should be made to have reasonable discourse with the other parent. You don’t have to be buddies with the ex, but having a pleasant relationship wherein you are able to discuss issues regarding the child should be developed, and is beneficial to all involved. It is also wise never to ask the ex-spouse about the demise of the relationship or try to compare notes, if you need information on what occurred in that relationship, ask your spouse. In my opinion ask only for relevant information, as it concerns the well-being of the child. You might find yourself in a situation wherein the divorce was very bitter, and through no fault of your own, the ex-spouse has decided that there will be no relationship with you. That is ok. Your job is to be a good adult person to the child involved. Try never to get involved in any bickering between the ex-spouses, and try to keep the child away from such arguments as best as you can. In addition, don’t add any fire to the already burning flames, remember you might never be in a position to hear the other side, and yes, there are two sides. Relationships are complicated as we all know, but we must try to make them work for the sake of the children. Always!

Child Support and Your Support

If your spouse pays child support, don’t try to prevent him or her from meeting that obligation, again, you knew going in that this was something that has to be taken care of. Once you have a family together, there may be some financial hardships with two families, if that’s the case, then there is legal recourse in the system to make adjustments, but the child should never be dragged into this process, or be made to feel as if he or she is a financial burden. All this should be handled without the child’s knowledge and hopefully without you being pulled into the process as well. Your attitude and encouragement will go a long way here. Typically what I have heard is that most exes had no problem paying their child support until they met a new person. Don’t be that negative influence. Taking care of a child involves emotional as well and financial support.

Important Life Events

If you spouse has to go to school events for his or her child in town, out of town or state, encourage that involvement, and be a part of it as much as you can, but know when to take a step back and let two be a company instead of three. There will be instances when you will need to step aside and let the relationship between the spouse and child develop, give them some space to make that happen. I usually advise friends who are jealous of the parent-child relationship to let go, don’t try to prevent a bond from developing between child and parent, you would want this for your child. You will not have less husband or wife because he or she loves their child; you will have a better spouse and relationship all around.

Discipline and Your Role – Just My Opinion

I have heard many experts say that the step parent should not be involved in the disciplining of the stepchild; this should be left solely up to the biological parent. I disagree. If there are children in the marriage, they should all be treated equally, this includes discipline. Why should the family have two sets of rules, and two modes of operation? That premise alone gives too much power to the stepchild, and will possibly alienate the step parent, relegating them to the sidelines. Discipline should be carried out as usual with love and caring as you would any child, it should not be carried out in anger or be abusive. The fact that the child is the stepchild should not be mentioned at all as any disciplinary action is being executed. In my experience, a child knows that he or she is loved when the right discipline is applied and boundaries are set.
In my case, I recall an instance when my step daughter was 5 years old, and she did something to put herself in danger. I swatted her on the bottom, after she went home her mom called and was angry asking why did I swat her daughter. I explained to her that every child in my care will be given love and discipline, both go hand in hand, and she cannot ask me to do one without the other. Plus, I asked if she wanted me to treat her child any different than I would treat mine, and her answer was no. So that was that, and we never had that discussion again. There are times however when you must consult the other parent, especially if your values are different. You don’t want to tell the child something that is not supported by the other parent, so know your boundaries, and defer to the other parents when necessary. Case in point, when my step daughter was turning 21 years old, she called my husband and told him that she was going to go out and drink some alcohol to celebrate, he freaked out and asked me to call her and tell her not to drink ever as this was dangerous and could ruin her future (by the way he drinks). This was not what I thought, so I told him no, I would not call her; this was for him and her mom to handle. Personally, I would prefer a young person not to drink, but if they choose to do so, it must be done responsibly, they should not be driving to put themselves or anyone else at risk, and it must be done in moderation. In this case, my personal opinion differed from his, and might have been different from her mom’s, so it was not my place to interfere. Know when you need to offer an opinion and when you don’t.

The Blended Family

Once you have started a family of your own with your spouse, it’s very crucial to not treat the stepchild as if he or she is a separate entity, they are a part of your family, even if not a resident one. Yes, there will be some differences if they live with the custodial parent and visits, but the difference should not be in the quality of the relationship, just an occasional physical location. If it’s possible for you to do, have a space in your home, so that when he or she visits, there will be a feeling of ownership and belonging in the home. If that is not possible, and space is being shared with your child, the room should be viewed as “our” room, and not “my” room by the resident child. You can and must promote this attitude in your home between your child and half sibling. The stepchild should be included in family photos, and all family trips if possible. Don’t try to do anything to make this child feel as if he or she is not a part of your home, there is nothing to be gained here.

My Experience

As a stepmother, I met my stepchild when she was four, and she is now 21 years old. I consider myself a parent to her just as her mom is, and feel lucky to have been a part of her life. I have always told her that I am not her mom, and don’t want to be, she already has one. However, when she is with me, I am the responsible adult and she must abide by my rules. I will give my opinion when asked; however, I try to leave most life changing and financial decisions such as choice of college between her, her dad and her mom to discuss. You have to know when to step in and when to step back. I do have a cordial relationship with her mom as I am not the one who caused the end of their marriage, actually that happened 3 years prior to me meeting my husband. I have always encouraged my husband to be a part of his daughter’s life. When she visits, he has to go to the movies with her, without me or my children, unless she requests our presence. There are times of course for family activity, but fostering his relationship with her is important especially since she resides with her mom. In addition, I have never tried preventing or try to get in the way of his paying his child support either, this is his obligation, and must be met. He has also been encouraged as much as he is capable to go to her important events such as graduation, etc. All in all, I would say, I have had a pleasant experience. It does not have to be unpleasant for you as long as you are pleasant.
In this end, the step child should have two homes, “my homes” and two families, “my families.” This is your task, to foster this feeling! Go be a great step parent.

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