Being a step-parent isn’t the easiest job in the world. When I first met the boys I didn’t have any kids of my own so to say I was a bit nervous at our first introduction was an understatement. The youngest was 4 at the time and the oldest 7, each with unique little personalities of their own. Each visit with the boys gave me a glimpse into motherhood, and I cherished it.
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At first it was hard for them to open up to someone new, as you can imagine, but then the day came where they started to come around. The little one even grabbing for my hand and calling my name to tell me something farfetched that just came to his mind.
We lived in a different town from them, and still do, but that didn’t stop us from frequent visits and random trips to the zoo. Each visit becoming more and more familiar with each other and I’ve learned a lot about these (not so little) guys over the span of 6 years. I no longer have one of them grabbing for my hand, but now that I have two kids of my own and the Segundo clan is now a party of 6 when we are all together, here are a few things that I learned while navigating the Step-Parent obstacle course:
- Set Realistic Expectations
Let’s get real- There are some things that they just won’t want to open up to you about. It’s not because they don’t trust you or they’re afraid they may feel the judgment peering from your eyes but they will turn to what feels comfortable- their dad in this case. No one wants to be in uncomfortable situations, and it’s unfair to put them in that position. Instead, ask them questions and access their body language. They will be analyzing yours too!
Creating a positive space for communication by responding to them with warmth and interest is what I’ve found to be helpful. Adjust your questions and conversations to fit their personalities. Kids have all kinds of slang terms these days, but we’re not going to get into that. My oldest bonus child takes to humor well and his personality is light-hearted and playful so I find it easiest to be playful in our interactions, whereas my youngest bonus child is very philosophical and up to date on the newest trends from video games to Tik Tok. Because I am clueless on both of these things I often ask him questions to piggyback off of his original conversation and his face lights up knowing that he’s teaching you something new!
Keeping the communication open-ended and creating headway for them to express their feelings or continue the conversation when they are comfortable makes all the difference.
3. Create a unique family system
The way they serve dinner or get ready for bed at night will most likely be different from what you do at home. A change in pace or a routine that feels unfamiliar can be a big adjustment. After asking how they do things at home, we mesh the two processes to create one routine that we are all happy and comfortable with!
4. Avoid Favoritism
This is one reason why the boys are my bonus instead of my “step”. Alienating them in any way that makes them feel unwanted and different is the opposite of what I want to do. One rule that may apply to my littles when at home now would apply to everyone at the home. If the littles get a treat after dinner everyone gets a treat after dinner. Not only does this help us connect as a family of 6 but it avoids hurt feelings and detachment.
5. Mutual Respect
The role between the biological and the step-parent may not be so different after all. Yes, the biological has a deeper connection with their birth child and takes on full responsibility thereafter, however, while in the step-parent’s care the responsibility is shifted. Responsibility financially, emotionally, and physically. It’s important that both sides are aware and come from a place of acceptance. Co-parenting isn’t a one size fits all solution, but consider your method of communication and remember that children come before conflict. Kids can sense the tension like a hound dog and the last thing we need is for the dynamic of the relationship to be compromised.
I’ve had my step-parent fails where I’ve said and done things that could have been handled differently and let’s be honest- not every situation is going to be peaches and cream, but it’s a learning curve(more like an off-roading adventure) for everyone involved. It may not be the smoothest ride but there’s no way I would go back and trade that first introduction for a thing.
The playful language they use, the way they dress, the hobbies they’ve come to know and love, their favorite meals, and their outlooks on life are all different from mine, but the only true difference I see is that they have one more person to love and support them for the rest of their lives.
Photo Credit :: Noelle Westcott Photography