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Friday 9 December 2022

Advice for New Stepdads: Tips for Step-parent survival

Being a Stepdad can be challenging - but there are ways to make it easier... 

Our latest guest post from Author, and Step-Dad, Daniel Grabowski, outlines some tips for step-parent survival...

Any parent will tell you that raising a child isn’t easy. Step-parenting comes with its own set of difficulties. Like sitting down to watch a film that started twenty minutes ago or picking up a novel and starting at chapter seven, you’re going to need to hit the ground running.

I’ve been a step-dad for almost five years at this point and while I don’t claim to have all the answers, I feel what I have to say here will be beneficial for new step-parents. Particularly those considering becoming one...

Are You Ready to become a  Stepdad?

My first and most important piece of advice is aimed at those who are deciding: Make sure you’re ready to be a parent. This isn’t a choice that is easily unmade. Once you decide to become a step-parent, if you leave the relationship you’re also leaving the child. Only they won’t be as understanding because they’re not as emotionally and intellectually developed. They’ll just see another parent who isn’t with them any more. It is much more damaging than you might think.

Learn as much as you can about being a Stepdad

Take your time to really think about what you’re getting involved in. Talk with your partner, be as open about any doubts or reservations and discuss them together. If you are not absolutely certain you can commit, if you have doubts and think ‘maybe I’ll just try it’—don’t. You aren’t ready and the uncertainty puts your relationship in jeopardy. Save the time and the inevitable heartache.

Contrary to that, if you’re being pressured by your partner take that a sign too. This is a decision that you and you alone have to make.

Stepdad advice - The United Front - set boundaries and expectations

There will already be a dynamic between mum and child and it’s your job to slot in to that. Even the healthiest of relationships will endure some friction when things change. To minimise disruption, discuss with your partner to establish the rules and expectations of the house and most importantly: respect them. You’re a role model now and if you don’t follow the rules of the house, how can you expect the child to?

You and your partner need to become a united front. If there’s a disagreement, come to a decision together about how it should go. Disagreements on discipline can always be an issue. A common problem can be that either the stepfather expects or is expected to become the disciplinarian. Don’t go in there expecting to have to roll your sleeves up and show the child ‘who’s boss’...this isn’t 1953; all it will achieve is driving the child away from you.

Stepdad advice - Expect Turbulence - be patient and understanding

Like I said before, coming into this relationship sets up a new dynamic, and no matter how nice you are, that’s a major disruption for any child. There will be some push back, guaranteed. Depending on the kid, it could be minor or major. The best thing you can do is stay calm and not to react; that’s exactly what they’re looking for. They will try and play mum off against you because at first they won’t trust you. Even if they’re all smiles, on the inside they’ll be thinking you’re a stranger.

In time it will become easier, to the point you won’t even need to think about it. But at first it is paramount to establish boundaries as children of any age will push and push until they find them. The further they push, the harder it gets.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help at any point. This is new to you most likely and it can be tricky to deal with. Absolutely do not be left in charge in the initial period, it’s just asking for trouble, trust me.

Stepdad advice - Time is Everything - stay connected with your family

Engage with them. This is super important because not only is this a way for you to get to know the child, but this is also how you gain their trust. For older kids, it might be as easy as helping them with their homework. For younger ones, sit down with them and build Lego or read a story. Whatever their interests are get involved. But ask them first. Consent here is important, otherwise kids can consider it an invasion.

You don’t need to buy them things and don’t make the mistake of trying to befriend them. Children are smarter than you think and they can see through the act. The best thing you can give them is your time and your honesty. Don’t know a thing about Minecraft but they love it? Tell them that, I guarantee they’ll light up as they teach you all about it. Prepare to hear about it for the rest of forever.

Stepdad advice - The D Word - calling a Stepdad 'Dad'

My last tip is to look out for two things. It’s a hard feeling to properly define, but these moments will hit like a sledgehammer made of affection. When they call you ‘Dad’, and when you forget you’re a step-parent. The former may not happen but the latter will. It might be an assembly or a Sports Day or a passed driving test, but you’ll catch yourself forgetting. That realisation is pretty unforgettable, too.

Stepdad advice: Be a role model for your children

Like most things in life, succeeding as a step parent comes down to two things: communication and respect. Get those two things right and you have the foundation of a successful relationship between you, your partner and your family. While it may seem a bit daunting, in my experience there’s a lot of fun that comes with it, and absolutely the best decision I ever made.

You can read Daniel's next post: Co-parenting as a Step-Dad here.

Author bio: Daniel Grabowski, Author, former Teaching Assistant  and Stepdad to one. 

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