One of the absolute hardest things I went through was adjusting to a step-parent role when Carlos and I got together. I didn’t have children of my own so I had no idea initially what I was doing or how to do it. Going from a one bedroom apartment with a dog and absolute control over my schedule and life, to a large home with two toddlers and lots to do really took an emotional and mental toll on me pretty quickly. Three years later, and we’re just scratching the surface of normality in our lives and routine on a consistent basis.
Knowing nothing about what I was getting into and being prepared for the same, I learned a lot about the difficulties and how to manage them. These are 5 tips I feel made, or could have made, the biggest impact on the adjusting process.
Tip 1: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
I think communication is the basis of having any sort of successful relationships whether it is personal or business. Being a step-parent is in no way an easy role to fulfill. You’re going to have a lot of frustrations that need to be communicated and talked out, both with your partner and your friends or family. The worst thing you can do is shut yourself out from your partner and build up a wall, there’s nothing to work through or contribute if you’re not talking. If you’re doubting yourself, if you’re confused, or if you just need advice - talk about it with someone! You would be surprised how many people have gone through or are going through the same struggles you are. Talking with someone can give you that extra boost you need to keep going and not become overwhelmed by your situation. You may even find that your partner is experiencing the same doubts or frustrations and together you can work through them to create a stronger bond.
Tip 2: Fight fair
So here’s the deal, when you became a part of your partner’s life you knew they had children. This was not a surprise that was simply thrown on you, you were not forced into the situation. With that being said, you cannot pick and choose when you want to be a step-parent based on your mood that day. Couples argue and unfortunately things can be said that are very hurtful. One of those things, that even I was guilty of, was using the phrase “your kids” (or in my case “your stupid kids”) when you’re fighting. You cannot say things like “our kids/my daughter/my kids/my son” and so on when it’s a wonderful day and then switch roles when you are tired of dealing with the situation. What you may not realize is that when these words are said, seeds of doubt are planted in your partner’s head about your involvement in their child’s lives. You may find that your partner no longer wants you to watch their kids when they’re not around or may not trust you to care for them or make good decisions based on your feelings when you’re aggravated. Your partner will wonder what kind of treatment their kids will receive if you get upset since your anger makes them “your kids”. It is ok to be angry and feel frustrated but you must find a way to use your words wisely so that you do not damage the trust you have with your partner.
Tip 3: Take care of yourself first
I did not do this. It’s fair to say I completely lost myself through this process of adjusting. I completely engulfed myself in making the house a home, building a relationship with the kids, making boundaries and fighting off frustrations with the ex - all while working a full time job and trying to keep my relationship fruitful. I got burnt out, I gained over 40 pounds, I went through some depression, and I felt alone. I was doing too much and taking on roles I didn’t have to take on. I’ve since learned that an empty pitcher cannot fill a glass. You must be whole, happy, and healthy if you are to impart the same into your relationships and life. Taking some alone time or spending time with friends is important. Do things that make you happy and relax you. Remember that it is not your sole responsibility to devote the rest of your life and all your time to someone else’s kids. Help where you can and step away when you need to.
Tip 4: Don’t be hard on yourself
I would like to recommend a book that changed my life and thought process on step parenting, it’s called “Stepmonster : A new look at why real stepmothers think, feel, and act the way they do” by Wednesday Martin. I was so hard on myself about the way I thought and acted towards my step kids. I bullied myself about my thinking and my feelings. Then I found out that every bit of how I felt and everything I thought was completely normal. After reading this book, I was actually upset with myself and those around me - to the verge of tears - because I realized I wasn’t a bad person and the way I was feeling was normal and part of the process. This role is not easy! It is said that it’s easier to have a relationship with an adopted child than it is to have normality with a step child. If you’ve ever thought “I hate these kids, I want them gone, our lives would be better without them” - it’s completely normal. What you are doing, the role you are filling it no easy task and may never be. Be nice to yourself.
Tip 5: Make your choice and stick to it
This tip is the hardest one to face because it is the difference between possibly spending the rest of your life with your partner or not. I think when kids are involved it’s not safe to think “we will see where this goes” in a relationship. There are more feelings involved and kids cannot bounce back like adults can. As an adult you have to consider whether your involvement is going to be healthy for the children, meaning are you going all in on this relationship or with one foot out the door. I had to ask myself quite a few times in the early stages whether I was going to make the decision to stick it out and work through the adjustments or if I felt it wasn’t worth the stress and frustration. If you’re forcing yourself to stick around in a relationship that is making you miserable you may need to consider the bigger picture.
Being a step-parent is hard but not impossible. Remember that you are not alone and there are a ton of blogs, books, groups, and people out there who can help you cope with the frustrations. Don’t give up on yourself - you’re doing a great job!
Photo By Asdrubal Luna