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Stepparenting Roles

The contrast between a misguided and an effective approach to stepparenting provides a key to  success in the stepfamily. Clearly, the effective stepparent works with accurate information and chooses specific behaviors to build toward positive relationships.

Recognizes importance of non-custodial parent

  • Respects children’s need and right to love that parent
  • Helps stepchildren nurture relationship by encouraging them to write, phone, visit
  • Allows picture, mementos of biological parent without creating conflict
  • Invites parent to important milestone ceremonies and events
  • Strives to be added parent figure and friend rather than substitute parent

Acknowledges existing bond between new spouse and children

  • Realizes it’s natural to feel closer to biological children
  • Reduces jealousy and competition for time and attention
  • Controls resentment when child and parent need time alone

Allows time for relationships to develop

  • Focuses on process of developing as a family unit
  • Values each small success as evidence of relationship growth
  • Minimizes worrying or trying to force progress
  • Respects and accepts others as new family forms

Manages own relationships with each child

  • Avoids interfering in other people’s problems unless invited
  • Encourages family members to care for own needs and relationships

Understands family life cannot always be happy

  • Accepts that problems exist
  • Understands that unhappy experiences teach children coping skills
  • Allows full expression of emotions whether negative or positive, pleasant or unpleasant

Possesses the courage to be imperfect

  • Rejects fairy-tale myths and unrealistic media portrayals of stepfamilies
  • Understands every mistake does not reflect cruel stepparent image
  • Realizes the way people learn is by making mistakes, thinking about them, and trying again
  • Shares own mistakes to give children permission to be imperfect and human

Accepts grief and loss as part of life's experience

  • Encourages children to face the reality of death or divorce that preceded stepfamily
  • Feels empathy, not sympathy, with children of loss
  • Helps kids confront and express feelings that grief elicits
  • Provides strength and encouragement so children can move into the future

Lets go

  • Permits children to belong to two families with a minimum of fuss
  • Allows children to spend time with peers, activities, other parents, without fearing
    stability of stepfamily is threatened
  • Plans family activities without forcing participation
  • Uses time away from children to enhance relationship with spouse

Tries to replace the absent parent

  • Feels insecure about stepparent role
  • Wants to own children and their affections
  • Attempts to cut ties with non-custodial parent
  • Assumes children cannot love several adults
  • Creates loyalty conflicts for children

Demands love and acceptance

  • Expects to care about stepchildren immediately
  • Expects children to express affection right away
  • Feels guilty when children express affection they don’t really feel

Insists feelings for stepchildren and biological children are the same

  • Tries to deny rather than accept differences in feelings
  • Feels guilty for loving own children more
  • Overcompensates with stepchildren by giving gifts, spending extra time, expressing phony feelings

Manages everyone else’s relationships

  • Takes on problems of all family members as own
  • Interferes in communication efforts of siblings, kids, biological parents
  • Keeps family members from forming direct relationships with one another
  • Insists on being included in activities
  • Deprives parents and children of needed private time and space together

Assumes peacemaker role

  • Fears another family loss
  • Believes difficulties imply failure
  • Denies problems exist
  • Shuts out negative emotions
  • Reacts defensively when stated feelings and real feelings clash

Strives to be perfect and thus counteract “wicked stepparent” myth

  • Allows no imperfection in self as parent figure
  • Avoids mistakes at all costs
  • Suppresses negative emotions
  • Refuses to state any opinion that might create conflict

Feels sorry for children of loss

  • Tries to make up for children’s parental loss
  • Pities children and delays grieving process necessary to heal
  • Indulges, pampers, and therefore prevents stepchildren from learning to understand life as it really is with its pain and adversities

Insists on family unity

  • Views goals as happiness and harmony at all costs
  • Uses family “togetherness” to show outsiders “how great we’re doing”
  • Dictates activities and denies free choices among family members
  • Diverts family members from preferred activities

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