On my wedding day, I walked down the aisle towards a loving and adoring husband-to-be. Even though my gaze was fixed on him, I was keenly aware of a set of big brown eyes looking up at me. Marriage is an extraordinary commitment, and no one understands it better than a bride or groom marrying someone with a child from a previous relationship. Those of us who became stepparents on that day not only committed to loving another person for the rest of our lives but also took on the role of a parent.
No matter how you look at it, being a stepparent is hard. Even in the best of circumstances, there is past hurt and complicated emotions to deal with. Being a stepparent is likely one of the most misunderstood roles in the parenting world, and many dive right in without truly knowing what to expect. While it is no easy feat, being a stepparent is worth every struggle.
However, knowing the dos and don’ts of stepparenting can make your journey as a stepparent a lot smoother.
9 things you need to know before becoming a stepparent
Being a stepparent comes with its unique set of challenges, and most don’t anticipate them. Many new stepparents feel blindsided by the expectations and some of the issues that can arise after getting married.
To help you gain confidence in your parenting role, here are 9 things you need to know before becoming a stepparent.
1. Building a relationship with your stepchild takes time
Having a successful relationship with your stepchild starts with letting go of all expectations. Building this relationship can be tricky at first, and you may go through many battles together before you feel like you’re getting along. The age of your stepchild will have a significant impact on this, and typically, the younger they are, the easier it will be. If they’re old enough to understand what’s happening, you may meet with some resistance and potentially some resentment at first.
Take courage in the thought that it will get easier over time, and it’s okay if you’re not always sure what to do. It’s going to take time to establish trust and love between you and your stepchild.
2. Boundaries are crucial
One of the best pieces of stepparenting advice I could give is this: you need to set boundaries and set them early on. Whether the boundaries are between you and your spouse’s ex, you and your stepchild, or anyone else involved, figure out what lines need to be drawn to keep everyone emotionally and mentally healthy.
As you figure out these boundaries, don’t forget your own health. Many stepparents find that their own needs get cast aside. Although we are meant to put our child’s needs first, we have to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.
3. There are ways to avoid marriage problems because of stepchildren
One of the hardest things about marrying into this role is that the stepchild will often feel protective of the biological parent. After all, that person had an established relationship with your spouse before you did. However, the two of you need to be on the same page when it comes to making your marriage a top priority.
Since you’ll never have the luxury of being newlyweds without children in the picture, find ways to spend time together as a couple, check in with one another, and connect each day. A strong marriage is vital when there is a stepchild involved.
4. Not everyone will recognize your role as a parent
Whether you are a full-time stepparent or not, you serve as a parental figure in your stepchild’s life. You may know that you don’t need to be a biological parent in order to love a child as your own, but you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you realize that not everyone will acknowledge or appreciate your role.
Whether it is your stepchild’s mother, another family member, or even a friend, there will be times when you feel unappreciated. Remember, your worth as a stepparent is not defined by anyone else’s standards, and all the love you show your stepchild is helping them grow.
5. There will be many hard days
Being a parent is never easy, but being a stepparent can feel even more difficult at times because there are so many aspects outside of your control. It often feels like you’re held back from being the parent you want to be. If you’re raising biological children at the same time, the difficulty level jumps even higher.
The fact that there will be many hard days is a given and a guarantee, but the truth is that when you’re a stepparent, there may be hard months and even hard years. The most challenging part is these difficult times can sweep you up like a current and come before you’re ready for them. When you’re going through a tough season, hang on tight and remember that what you’re doing is making a difference.
6. Sometimes you’ll have to step aside
Another challenge about being a stepparent is accepting that you and your spouse will not make all decisions. There will be times when you feel the wrong one is being made, but there isn’t much you can do about it. In the best-case scenario, you’ll have your voice and opinion heard and appreciated. In many cases, however, they won’t be welcomed or considered.
At such times, it’s important to realize that what you’re doing still matters and it doesn’t make you any less of a role model or parent to your stepchild. Respect the wishes of both biological parents as best as you can and show your spouse they have your support.
7. Discipline will be a touchy subject
Discipline is where you’ll likely meet the most resistance from your stepchild. It does depend on how long you’ve been around and how old your stepchild is, but they will most likely not see you as an authority figure at first. When it comes to dealing with stepkids, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to gaining their respect. You have to find what works for your family.
In your case, it may make sense to take a step back and wait until there’s more trust in the relationship before trying to be the disciplinarian. Remember that it’s going to take time and patience before you can establish this type of relationship with your stepchild.
8. You’re going to have to deal with the ex
In most marriages, talking about an ex is strictly taboo. Most married couples would never dream of seeing an ex, let alone having them in their life. One of the things they don’t tell you before you become a stepparent is that you’ll likely have to deal with your spouse’s ex on a regular basis.
This doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them, nor should they cross any boundaries you’ve established. Dealing with your stepchild’s mother is not always a negative experience, and many stepparents have good co-parenting relationships with the other biological parent. Whether or not that’s the case with you, you’ll have to learn to be civil with the ex for the sake of your stepchild.
9. Your heart will break frequently
Being a stepparent isn’t easy in any sense of the word. In learning how to be a good stepparent, there will be moments when you’re angry with everyone in the situation, as well as moments when you feel you can’t hold it together any longer. There will be times when you wish things were different, and you’re not sure if you’re really cut out for this.
In those moments, remember that your stepchild needs you. Your heart will break frequently as a stepparent, but it will also grow with love.
Despite the difficult circumstances that brought you here, your stepchild needs you just as you are, with all your flaws and uncertainty. It takes a truly special person to love someone else’s child as their own. If that’s where you find yourself, know that you are the right person for the job.