5 Rules for Step Parents
Clinical Psychologist Cliff Battley shared his knowledge on being a Step Parent.
If you’re parenting in a blended family, I’m sure you’ve heard the following: “You’re not my mother!” or “You’re not my father!” or “You can’t tell me what to do!”, sound familiar? Well you are not alone by any stretch. This is a typical response from children who have another parent come into their life. It’s important to know that most of this retaliation stems from previous experiences that usually have nothing to do with you and your skills as a parent. Children being raised in a blended family deal with many challenges, like living apart from the other biological parent, the trauma of the original divorce and how they were parented before your arrival. Each issue can have a significant influence on your ability to be a happy and connected step parent. We spoke with Clinical Psychologist Cliff Battley who shared the five-step strategy he uses with his clients.
This is number one. You cannot let things fester or get under your skin. You can’t just be quiet about an issue and hope it will go away. Sometimes your stepchild is going to disrespect you, plain and simple. Sometimes they are going to see you as competition between them and your partner or sometimes even resent you because you live in the house whilst their biological parent doesn’t. That’s why communication, not just between you and your partner, but between you and the kids is so very important. You must always let the children know you will always be there for them, no matter what; that you’re there to support them and that you would like to work together as a family to make it work.
Consider your intentions
Ask yourself, “Why am I in this relationship?” Why have you decided to come together as a blended family? What does that mean to you? Now , wait until the kids are not around, then sit down with your partner and have an open and frank conversation with them. Check your intentions match. It is essential you are on the same page because you’re both going to parent in the same house and you’re both going to show leadership to these children. Success requires unity. Talk about how you’re going to raise the kids and how you’ll decide on and implement boundaries when it comes to disciplining them. Be careful though. This sensitive, step-parenting process demands you strategically support each other both through the discussion phase and in the implementation stage. You will be limited when it comes to disciplining your step-children children but you can make up for that with strong leadership. Remember, children listen to ‘Aunty Sally’ more than they listen to their own mum sometimes. Use this to your advantage! In this way, you, the step parent, can become their greatest ally.
The number one problem I hear from step parents is around disrespect: “My step child has no respect for me”; “The way they speak to me is appalling”; “They don’t do what I say”, or “They purposely defy me and I just get so angry about that”
My response to these complaints is simple. At all times remember, YOU are the adult. You’ve chosen to love this child unconditionally. Your step child is in a new world that they did not sign up for – it’s strange, scary and uncertain. When they defy you like this, it’s not usually coming from a place of disrespect. More often than not, they’re trying to reach out for your love and attention. To simply know they matter to you. That you care and listen. That being said, under no circumstances are you to fight back and come down to their level! They will beat you with experience down there. They’ll keep you fighting until you both end up unhappy. What you can do however, is play it NEUTRAL. When they are being rude to you, keep your voice down and tell them, in a neutral tone, that you won’t respond until they want to speak to you camly and nicely. The next time they ask you for something like a ride somewhere or some pocket money you can say, “You know, I’d really love to do that for you, but you’ve been rude to me this week so we need to chat about that before I give you a ride/give you pocket money” This serves two fantastic outcomes. It forces your step kids to think about the way they treat you and prepares them for the real world, because as we all know, in life, you cannot expect someone to do things for you when you are nasty to them. We must give in order to receive.
You need to set even, clear and understandable rules across for all parents and children. One home. One even playing field. Just because you are a parent and they are a child doesn’t mean that you don’t live by the same standards, rules and behaviours. Remind them that we all have chores to do, we all have responsibilities and that those rules and behaviours earn the same rewards and age appropriate consequences. Meet regularly as a family and openly discuss these rules and responsibilities together. Listen to what the kids have to say and work together towards a united goal. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, to see where you’ve got it wrong and ask them, “How can I say that better?” Or, “What do you need from me?” “How could I help you more?” Remember, as a family, you are a team. Successful teams meet regularly and work together.
This is not just physical connection, but more of a general connection with your stepchild i.e. making sure you go out of your way to be there for them during their highs and lows. Be there during their special moments and, most importantly, be there when they need you the most e.g. when they are struggling with school, struggling with bullying, struggling with a friend or simply having a bad day. You don’t need to do much to show them you care and that you’re there for them. It can be as simple as making them a cup of tea and being there to listen, even if it’s sitting on the couch and not talking whilst they watch TV. Just be present. Connected by letting them know, you are here, they matter and they count in your world, because you know what? Sometimes your step kids don’t feel like they count in their other parent’s world that isn’t living with them. Sometimes your kids are going to feel lonely or they just don’t know how to talk to you and relate to you because you’re not their biological parent. So take the lead and connect, lean in and show them that they matter. Let them know they are important to you; no matter what they do, what they say or what they think, you are always going to be there for them and have their back. No matter what!
With over 25 years of experience working in both mental and physical health, Cliff is a Clinical Psychologist with expertise in families and children. His recent book ‘Bully Proof Your Child’ is a handbook that comfortably blends scientific evidence and psychological reasoning with real world, modern parenting.