Most stepmothers? NOT evil.
You're not doomed to fail!
Let’s face it. Stepmothers get a bad rap. Disney didn’t do us any favors with the queen fromSnow White, Lady Tremaine of Cinderella and Queen Narissa from Enchanted. These stepmothers weren’t just neglectful, jealous, or self-involved — they wanted their stepdaughters dead! That’s intense. And a heavy burden for those of us who want to love and cherish our wee little stepchildren.
Evilness aside, being a stepmom isn't easy. You have to feel your way through an often thankless and unfamiliar job with little direction and sometimes very few allies. Then there's the delicate balancing act of sharing the same responsibilities with biological parents (feed, clothe, keep safe, entertain, drive places, adore), yet you receive none of the parental rights and most likely don't garner the same level of respect, affection or love.
So how do we rise above this, and rock our stepchildren’s world (in a good way)? Here are seven essential tips:
1. Spend time with your stepchild(ren).
Starting as early as the first meeting, be present with the new child(ren) in your life. It's often helpful in the beginning to spend time with them at a neutral location like a park, museum or restaurant — preferably somewhere without tons of stimulation and distractions, but just enough so that you're not putting too much pressure on the child to interact with you.
If the child is young, get down on his level, play on the floor and show an interest in his toys/games. If the child is older, find an activity that she likes to do and do it with her. If you have your own biological children, don’t throw everyone together all at once. Go slowly, and keep people separate. Get to know your significant other’s child and let him get to know yours before you decide to do a “family” event.
Once you decide to move in together, keep up this habit of spending time together, not only as a family, but one-on-one with your stepkids. They need to know that you're interested in them.
2. Give positive affirmations and affection.
Some stepchildren, especially little ones, will want physical affection from you, while most will not. Don’t let this stop you from being loving. You can use words to communicate your appreciation, admiration and fondness for your stepchild. When you see something you appreciate in your stepchild, say it to them. Don't flatter. Children will know if you're being genuine.
3. Earn your respect.
Some parenting experts say that stepchildren don't have to like you, but they do need to respect you. I humbly disagree; I think you need to earn respect, not command it. (The surest way to alienate teenagers is to come into their life, and demand that they respect you. Go easy tiger!)
You're the adult, so you have responsibilities to protect and keep the children safe, so in that sense they need to respect the rules and established boundaries. That's fundamentally different than respecting you. Let the relationship with you develop over time. Act with integrity and treat the children with dignity, and the respect will come.
4. Have patience.
This one I can't stress enough. Becoming an awesome stepparent isn't an overnight process. It's most definitely a journey. I liken it to bonding with cats. If you walk up to a cat, grab it and smother it with kisses, chances are you're going to get scratched, and that cat is always going to run away from you. Fulfill the cat’s needs, and then sit quietly in the same room, and let the cat come to you in its own time. Eventually, the cat will end up purring contentedly in your lap. Children adapt to new situations in their own time, and at their own pace. Allow them the room to do so.
5. Get smart.
There are many ways to learn about being a stepmother. You’re doing one of them right now! Congrats! Reading is an excellent start. Check out other articles, books and websites.
Another recommendation is to talk to people you know. Find role models to emulate. There are support groups around the country that serve new families. You can learn what to do (as well as what not to do) from the other stepmothers you know or meet.
6. Don’t be afraid to discipline.
Okay, this one takes time and finesse, but don’t be afraid of disciplining. At the beginning, you want to avoid it, if you can. Let the child’s biological parent handle it. But back him up, and be supportive and united. Get on the same page about discipline philosophies with your spouse and if you need more education on the subject, I highly recommend No-Drama Discipline, a fascinating book that outlines all sorts of compassionate ways to deal with “tantrums, tensions and tears — without causing a scene.” Hallelujah!
Over time, as you earn the trust and respect of your stepchild, you'll have more authority to discipline. And if you can do so with compassion and consistency, your stepchild will actually feel closer to you. Children feel safe and cared for with clear boundaries.
I cannot stress this one enough! Family members need to talk to each other. A lack of communication leads to uncertainty and misunderstandings. To be a rock star stepmama you need to talk, not only to your spouse, but also to your stepchildren. Talk with your spouse about your feelings, expectations, hopes, dreams, frustrations, needs, wants and desires for the family, and share where appropriate with the children.
And don’t forget to listen — both children and adults need to feel heard. Develop a healthy opportunity for discussion, such as a weekly or bi-monthly family meeting. Open forums where people are given the chance to talk lead to strong connections and well-earned respect.
One last word of advice: Go easy on yourself and others in the family while you’re on this journey. Everyone is learning a new skill set. You will all make mistakes, and you will all grow in positive ways because of them. Rock on!
Kira Gould is a Certified Divorce Coach® and the founder of Getting Unmarried: Redefining Happily Ever After.
This article originally appeared at Your Tango.
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