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Thursday 2 February 2023

Co-Parenting as a Stepdad

Co-Parenting as a Stepdad: Building and Maintaining a Family Together | A guest post by Daniel Grabowski: 

 2 parents sat on a beach holding hands with a child who is between them

In my previous article all about advice for new step dads, I talked about what to expect if you choose to become a stepdad. To go a step beyond that, in this piece I’ll discuss co-parenting as a step-parent. As the novelty wears away and you simply become a family, there are still obstacles to overcome.

I mentioned before that the two most important things are respect and communication. You’d be correct in thinking nothing has changed there. If those two things are a healthy part of your relationship already, you’re off to a great start.

The New United Front

Remember The most important thing here: you are a united front. It’s you two versus the problem. Kids can often play you off against each other, whether it’s to get an extra chocolate bar or an another half an hour on the tablet. They may even go as far as bringing the other parent into this. “But my dad let’s me!” is a line that can cause you to second guess yourself and that’s perfectly normal. The temptation to cave’ so as not to compromise the relationship you have with the child, can be a big one; this is another test of the boundaries you’ve set. Sticking to your rules and expectations here will serve you much better than pandering. It’s also worth pointing out that whatever may go well at the other house you might not want in yours.

There is also a new united front to consider: that of the entire family. In time, the child may come to you asking for help or advice on a problem or issue. The best thing to do is bring Mum into it (unless its picking out a birthday present; that’s a whole different matter) and solve the problem together as a family. It promotes an open, healthy and sharing environment within the household; breeds trust; and reduces the chances of secrecy and withholding from the child.

I must stress here that no matter how trivial the child’s problem may seem, take it seriously and don’t laugh it off or simply dismiss it. It will be very important to them, especially if they’re young. Making sure the children’s voices are heard will be very important for their self-worth and will only strengthen a bond with them.

Patience is Paramount

Remember that everyone is different. There’s no set time limit on how long it takes a child to feel comfortable with a stepparent. So keep that in mind if you still feel a bit of distance between you and the child. From toddlers to teens, in any context it will vary how long it takes for them to accept you. All you need to do is remember respect and communication. Just be there and be honest; eventually they will come round.

Quiet Conflict

In any relationship there will be moments when you are not on the same page. In some cases maybe not even the same book. It’s normal and nothing to be ashamed of. The important thing here is that while it is okay to disagree, it isn’t healthy to do it in front of the children. The united front only works until the infighting starts, and if you’re having heated disagreements in front of the children, you’re undoing a lot of the hard work you’ve put in. Wait until after bedtime, or go into another room. You might find that by taking some time before you address your issue, you’ll have cooled a little and are more amicable in resolving it.

Routine, Routine, Routine

A home with a routine is a happy one. Kids thrive when they know what to expect. By no means do you have to be regimented, but having set times for bed, waking up, meals, homework, family time etc., go a long way for making kids feel secure. A child that doesn’t know when to expect things is an anxious one. Things like after school homework or Saturday morning walks at the park become a source of comfort. Routine helps with behaviour, anxiety and wellbeing with children. And adults too, funnily enough.

Now, I must caution assigning roles as part of this routine. In a world conscious of gender roles and stereotypes, dangerous expectations can be set if and when Mum and Dad have their own identified jobs. There should be no ‘Dinner-maker’, ‘Wheelie Bin-mover’ or ‘Pot-washer’. Instead these all should be shared. If it’s tricky, schedule them around what works best for you. I’ll admit I wasn’t one for cooking a few years ago, but now when it’s my night to cook I love to whip up a Spaghetti Bolognese or a Bacon Cheesy Blaster (patent pending).

The Other Guy

Finally there is the matter of the biological father. Again, context is everything here as relationships can end in all manner of ways. If at all possible, I would recommend trying to build a positive relationship with the biological father. Another positive relationship in the child’s life is only going to have a positive effect. But I understand that can’t always be the case.

Whatever the circumstances and your feelings towards the biological dad, absolutely under no so circumstances do you share any negativity with the child. It is not your place and it is wholly inappropriate to have any kind of influence over that relationship.

I don’t claim to be a professional when it comes to parenting, nor do I claim that these are rules to follow. All I can say is, I drew up these points when I considered the challenges I’ve faced as a stepparent, and that were I to step back in time now, this is probably what I’d tell my younger self. I hope if you’ve read this I’ve managed to help you out in some small way, or at least given you something to consider going forward.

Honestly, I’m still learning everyday myself.

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

Have a read of Daniel's post 'how to write a novel and manuscript in 4 easy steps' here.

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