It is important for the stepparents to learn not to allow the actions of their stepchildren to bother them too much. Often, what is being done is something that would be excused or overlooked if done by their birth children. Compassion for what the children have gone through, and the scars they bear, can go a long way in building a healthy relationship. As hard as it is, the stepparent must always act like the adult and never act in a retaliatory fashion.
So what are some of the important principles of stepparenting?
1. Be loving, giving and accepting.
2. Show care by being concerned, asking questions, and wanting to know about your stepchildren, while not moving in too close or too fast.
3. Learn their cues and don’t be intrusive.
4. If there are grandchildren, show an interest in them.
5. Remember, you are not the parent.
6. Get counseling as a family from the beginning.
7. Decide on what the stepparent should be called.
8. Be empathic to the stepparent who is trying to find a role with his/her stepchildren.
9. Don’t allow your children to be rude to your spouse.
10. Allow for mourning over the loss of the original family unit.
11. Make your new spouse come first. Communicate and support each other in your dealings with the children.
12. Ambivalence and negative feelings are a reality of living in a stepfamily. Don’t try to be the perfect stepparent. Your resentment will show through.
Some of the wonderful comments I heard from those I interviewed are important lessons.
1. He’s warm. I admire and respect him. He gives brochos and is very supportive. He is an excellent role model.
2. He treated us well. He treated me like I had a brain in my head. He encouraged me.
3. He considered my daughter as if she were his daughter. He paid school tuition, went to school events, bought her clothing, worked on the computer with her and included her in our vacations.
4. I taught my stepson how to talk on a date. As a stepparent, you need wisdom to know how to use your middos. You need to have compassion for your stepchild and what they went through. Soften your attitude toward their misbehavior. Respect the children. Be patient. Use goodwill to make the relationship work. Don’t let your emotions rule over your brains.
Two closing stories
1. A widower married a divorcee with children. Soon they had children together. The wife’s ex-husband had no money and did not show much interest in his children. The wife and her new husband never pursued child support. They just took care of everything the children needed together. When the ex-husband passed away, there was no money for the burial .So the new husband paid for and conducted the funeral – and since there were no sons, he says kaddish for him every year on his yahrtzeit.
2. Dina’s mother had been widowed for many years when her mother married Sam. Dina’s grandmother, her father’s mother, was still alive and for years, Sam cooked and helped take care of her. As Dina says, “He didn’t raise me, but I respect him for what he did and it makes me happy to see that he makes my mother happy.”
*Names have all been changed and stories altered to protect confidentiality
Tina Kahn is a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist. With over 25 years of experience, she specializes in marital and communication issues, self-esteem, depression and anxiety. She also uses hypnotherapy for pain management and early childhood issues. Tina Kahn is a member of Nefesh and of the New York Society for Ericksonian Psychotherapy and Hypnosis. Tina Kahn is in private practice in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 718-253-3973.