Since the days of Cinderella, step-parents have had a bad reputation. But in reality, with a little care, stepparents can play a very positive role in a child’s life.
Statistics tell us that up to 50% of all marriages will end in divorce and that over 80% those who are divorced will someday remarry. With those figures in mind, it’s also been estimated that approximately one third of all children could spend a portion of their childhood with a step-parent. It only follows then, that many adults will someday find themselves in the difficult role of stepparent.
Dr. Peter Marshall, author of Cinderella Revisited says that if you are a step-parent it’s important to recognize the differences between blended families and nuclear ones. “I think the biggest mistake that step-parents make are trying to make the step-family just like a carbon copy of a nuclear family. Step-families are not the same as nuclear families. They are very different. The biggest mistake people make is having a preset notion of what a step-family is and forcing it to fit into a mould which very often it cannot fit into.”
Marshall adds that when it comes to successful step-parenting, slow and steady wins the race. “By and large, I suggest that step-parents take it slow and not step in too soon because this can lead to a lot of resentment. Gradually getting involved with upbringing tends to be a far more successful way of handling step-parenting.”
Psychologist Dr. Michael Elterman agrees, especially when it comes to the area of discipline. Elterman feels that one of the biggest mistakes a step-parent can make is taking on the role of disciplinarian. “My one piece of advice is for a step-parent to follow the lead of the biological parent. Try to fit in with what they have historically done with the children, to support that parent, to be a responsible adult when the parent is not around, but to essentially leave the disciplining to the biological parent of the children.”
Elterman adds if you want your role as a step-parent to be a good one it’s vital that you avoid taking sides with your step-children’s biological parents. “If a step-parent gets into bad mouthing a parent that’s outside of the home, it’s a very risky thing to do because they run the risk of alienating the child, and of having the child feel that they are being disloyal to one or other the parents. Therefore it’s very important to simply take a neutral position and emphasize that both parents have a right to a relationship with the child.”
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Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.