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Escape the Stepparent Trap - Talk about your assumptions

Written by Kathy Watson

"The most important thing," says Bray, "is to talk about your assumptions and ideas about parenting, and realize that there's more than one way to parent well. You need to keep your eye on the outcome you want. If you feel the biological mom is too lenient, but the kids are doing well, then whatever that mom is doing is working."

It also helps, says Bray, to realize that kids are going to listen to biological parents more effectively than to a step parent, and to keep any jealousy this entails at bay. Avoid being critical of the nonresidential parents in front of the kids. And if you enter a stepfamily with adolescent children, discipline issues need to be revisited by everyone involved, because the kids will be used to other rules.

The fact that Netzer loves his stepdaughter has not erased the need to learn these lessons.

"There's this weird balance you have to find, being someone in Hannah's life that she has to listen to and is important to her, but I'm not the final say," Netzer says. He found early on that if he set the rules, his wife might come in later and change direction. "The whole undermining of authority thing, there's a bit of humiliation in that. I just hated the turnabout, and I felt terrible, and Hannah got a mixed message. We had our share of troubles with it."

How has he dealt with it? "Sarah is the bottom-line authority. Because we share time with Hannah's dad, when Hannah comes in and says she wants to do something, I say 'You need to check with your mom.' "

Sarah and Greg now have a son, and Greg fully participates in parenting him. "The current under our words is slightly different," says Netzer. "With Owen, we're full partners. With Hannah, I'm like the national security adviser."

Netzer agrees with the experts that there's no road map to being a good stepparent. He says that you've just got to figure it out as you go along, realizing that it's always going to be a kind of balancing act for everyone in the family.

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