As a step parent you not only have to adjust to your partner, but also to your partner’s children and the ex. There are sure to be problems in the beginning because children will resent the one who is trying to take the place of their natural parent. As you get to know each other, things are bound to improve.
Some ways and tips to help a step parent cope with this situation are:
Do not say anything derogatory or negative about the natural parent in front of the child. Even if children themselves have issues with the parent, they get angry if someone else criticises them. Be polite when face to face with that parent especially if custody of children is shared. Think about how difficult the whole situation must be for that parent and deal with them in a sensitive manner. It is not going to be easy for either of you but do the best you can so that bitterness is kept to a minimum. If an ex partner is deceased, honour that person and be compassionate about the loss children feel.
Take parenting decisions after discussing them with your partner. The children might be used to different limits of discipline or your partner may not agree with your views on certain matters. Both of you should talk and arrive at a decision together. If you do not have children and your partner does, it is all the more necessary to seek the opinion of your partner in how to handle the children. And get to know them. Try to find out what they are interested in by talking to them. The likes and dislikes of different ages will be different.
Discipline should be equal for every one. Whatever rules you finally decide on must be applied consistently to all children in the house. Certain rules like time of going to bed, staying out etc. will be different for children of different ages, but they must be the same for children both of you have from previous partners, or children you have had together. If the children feel that they are treated equally, they are more likely to follow the rules and it leads to better adjustment. Even if they have to move to another house or there is some other major change, they will feel better if rules are consistent in both households. To facilitate this, adults can hold a meeting and arrive at a consensus. Otherwise children are bound to compare parents and bring them around to what they want.
Do not try to win affection or cover up your gilt with gifts. Children need love, affection and understanding but gifts cannot take their place. Don’t buy gifts to make the children feel better about you. Withhold treats if they do not follow you or misbehave. Set standards for them and make it clear that they will be punished or penalised if the standards are not met. It must be clear how much leeway they can expect. Look to satisfy their needs first and then fulfill the wants.
Look for new ways to bond with the children. Try to access the interests of your step children and do fun things with them. It could be biking together, having a barbeque night every month, paying board games some night or doing a project together. Value their feedback and repeat they most enjoy doing. Once you start having fun together love will follow on its own. Do not try to thrust a relationship on them but let it grow on them. It will then be a natural and long lasting one.
Do not try to use children to get information about yours ex partner’s house hold. Children will spend time with both the parents if you have shared custody. Do not ask them what is going on in the other house when they are back from a visit. Also don’t communicate with your ex spouse through the children but talk to the other parent directly. Keep channels open so that you are able to discuss visits, school or health problems and any other issues concerning the children. Children should not suffer for whatever differences have crept up between you.