Helpful Tips for New Stepparents
If you are preparing to get married to someone who has children from a prior relationship, it is important to understand what may be in store for your future, especially if you do not have children of your own. While you may have taken on certain responsibilities and been accepted as part of the family while you and your partner dated, marriage is a very serious step. When you say, “I do,” you will become a stepparent, and, from that day on, you will have a very real impact on the lives of your spouse’s children.
A Package Deal
It may seem obvious, but many new stepparents seem to downplay or outright ignore the role that a child plays in his or her parent’s life. It is easy to get caught up in the euphoria a new romantic relationship with your partner and to only think about the children on occasion. You must remember that, no matter how much you love your partner, you are not just marrying him or her. For better or worse, you are also marrying into a pre-existing family unit. If you are not prepared for this reality, the new family dynamic could quickly spiral out of control. This means that you may not get as much one-on-one alone time with your partner as you would like, at least while the child is fairly young. Instead, you are likely to have a wider variety of family experiences
Set Boundaries for Yourself
When it comes to authority, discipline, and child-rearing, you must be very careful. You do not have the right to act like you are in charge simply because you married your stepchildren’s parent. Your authority and responsibilities regarding the children will develop slowly as you establish healthy relationships and levels of trust. Over time, your stepchildren may come to see you as a bona fide parent, but pushing too hard too soon can lead to resentment that may be impossible to overcome.
Accept Your Spouse’s Ex
For most couples, each person’s relationship history does not really matter. Whoever each spouse was with before is in the past, and he or she is now focused on the current situation. When you marry someone with children, however, the reality is often much different—especially if the other parent actively participates in the children’s lives. It is not going to be easy, but getting along with your partner’s ex is one element of stepparenting that is almost unavoidable. You do not need to be friends—though if doing so is possible, the whole situation will be much easier—but you do need to be civil and respectful for the sake of the children. Avoid making negative comments about the other parent in front the children, and do your best to be on the same page when it comes to rules, consequences, and boundaries.
Give It Time and Be Supportive
Despite the challenges, you may be excited to take on the role of a stepparent. The best way to begin is by going slow and being available to communicate with the children. It may be weeks before your stepchild asks you anything deeper than for help with homework, but when he or she is ready to open up, offer kindness and support. The transition is just as hard—if not harder—on the children as it is on you. Be patient, loving, and friendly, not overbearing, authoritative, or demanding. In time, you are likely to feel like you have always been part of the family.
Contact a Family Lawyer
As a stepparent, you must also keep in mind that your rights and responsibilities under the law are not the same as those of a legal parent unless you successfully complete a stepparent adoption. To learn more about your rights as a stepparent, contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney. Call 630-232-9700 for a confidential consultation today.