The other day, a friend of mine who was a new stepparent asked me, “What is the best advice you have for a new stepparent?” I'm not a psychologist, but I am a father of five with my 9th anniversary coming up with a blended family, so I have learned a few things over the years. In case you are a new stepmom or stepdad, here is my best advice for new stepparents.
Stepparent Tip #1: Read The Smart Stepdad or The Smart Stepmom
When I first became a stepdad, I read a lot of books on the subject. One specific book stood out, “The Smart Stepdad: Steps to Help You Succeed.” There's another book, “The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive,” with similar advice for mom. The author, Ron Deal, is a speaker and therapist who specializes in blended families, and his stepparent advice is practical and easy to follow. If you are a new stepparent, my best advice is to grab a copy of this book and read it.
You might also want to grab a copy of “Screamfree Parenting: How to Raise Amazing Adults by Learning to Pause More and React Less” and “Screamfree Marriage: Calming Down, Growing Up and Getting Closer” which are some of my all-time favorite relationship books. While these books have “scream” in the name, they aren't really talking about yelling; screams come in many forms, including “the silent treatment,“ where people try to ignore the problem rather than working through it. These books give practical advice that can improve nearly any relationship.
There are many other articles on the subject you can read too like the ones below. Remember many people have become stepparents before you, learn from them!
Stepparent Tip #2: Let Dad or Mom Handle Most Discipline at First
At the beginning of a stepparent relationship, it's important not to have negative interactions with your new stepchild constantly. While you shouldn't let your stepchild walk all over you and should put in appropriate healthy boundaries, let the person who has been the parent since birth handle most of the discipline at first. Gradually you can and should insert yourself into those situations more and more, but don't be the bad guy right out of the gate.
Stepparent Tip #3: Put Your Stepfamily in the Crockpot, Not the Microwave
This piece of stepparent advice came from another friend who is a blended family counselor, stepmom, and grandmother. “Put it in the crockpot, not the microwave.”
Cindy explained, “There are three primary ways that people try to cook a stepfamily. The first is to microwave it. Here's your new dad or mom. You should love and respect this person just like your biological mom or dad because I say they're good. We're doing away with all the stuff you're familiar with, and here are the new traditions. Microwaving things that shouldn't be microwaved often ends up making a mess, and families are something that shouldn't be microwaved.”
“The next method is to toss it like a salad. Everyone keeps doing what they are doing, people go their own way for the holidays, and things never really gel together. If you look at a salad, you can see the distinct ingredients; it's never really fully blended. That's the way tossing a step family works when everyone keeps doing their own thing; they never fully blend.”
“The final method is what I recommend. Throw everything in the crockpot, turn the heat on low, and let it simmer. Let people do their own things in the beginning, but create new traditions as a family as well. Don't pressure the kids to say mom or dad, let them start doing that on their own if they want. Don't immediately demand the same level of affection from the kids that they give to those who have been with them from birth. Spend time together, and make memories. With time and low heat, everything turns out wonderful.”
Time Makes Special Moments Better
My oldest daughter, Emma, was almost a teenager when we first met. Given that she had watched her mom go through bad relationships in the past, I didn't force her to try and call me “dad” or say “I love you.” When those words popped out of her mouth a few years later, they were extra special because of the wait.
Don't rush your kids to say such things. Just like it wouldn't be as meaningful for a new romantic interest to say “I love you” on the first date, it's not as meaningful when you force your kids to say stuff they don't yet feel. Trust me; if and when those special moments come, they will mean a lot more to you if you've earned them through your consistent actions than if you've forced the issue.
I hope this stepparent advice helps! If you have other tips, feel free to leave them in the comments!