New Stepparent

As seen in Brooklyn Family Magazine and on

I am getting married to a man who has two children (3 and 7) from his previous marriage. Do you have any advice for me in getting to know them and being accepted by them as their step-mom?

Dear New Stepmom, Congratulations on your marriage and becoming a stepmother! Here are some ideas that could be helpful as you take on these wonderful new relationships.

Stepparents often generate fun and interesting ideas and become a source for important perspective and guidance for their families. However, this important role takes time, sometimes years, to develop.

Some stepchildren happily welcome their dad’s new partner while others are more cautious. In either case it is good to remember that when a dad gets a new wife it represent a big transition for his children.

To have this transition go well it often helps to follow the little ones’ lead about the amount and form of contact. Some stepchildren are reluctant to interact in any way while others jump into their new step mom’s lap to get to know them. Both reactions are fine and will most likely change over time.

At some point it can help the “step” relationship to set aside some time to do something alone together that is relaxing and fun. A trip to the grocery store for a special dessert or a walk with the dog is some possible places to start. Regular opportunities such as these give both people time to get to know and enjoy each other in a relaxing way.

It is usually easier for children to accept their parent’s new partner if their precious time with Mom or Dad is relatively unchanged by the new arrival. In other words couples need to make sure that the children are the focus of their attention whenever little ones are around. This means affection, discussions and adult activities need to be tabled for another time whenever possible (often challenging to do). It can also help when a step mom makes an effort to support dad’s alone time with his children. This sometimes means that stepparents create a separate space for themselves at home and/or arrange to do things away from their family from time to time.

Children are often understandably wary about the addition of another authority figure in their lives. (After a divorce juggling two parents in two homes is usually difficult enough to sort through). Therefore it is usually very important to let dad be the disciplinarian, setting the tone and rules in the home.

Of course stepparents often notice rules and routines that could be changed to improve their family’s dynamic (this is often a good thing). However, children can resent sudden changes, even if they are good ones. In order to avoid tension and upset couples need to discuss family routines away from little ones and any new ideas need to be introduced over time. Parents also need to get the final say, as the wisdom of an outside observer doesn’t always incorporate the history or intricacies of long standing parent child relationships. Stepparents who can sort through this difficult challenge are often able to develop deep relationships with their stepchildren.

I mentioned earlier that stepparents are often a source of invaluable perspective and guidance. This is true but I usually suggest that stepparents let their young people initiate requests for support or advice. Unsolicited suggestions are often far less appreciated. It is also good to remember that children are smart; even if they don’t show it they will soak in a stepparent’s thought and care.

I often describe successful step parenting as a gradual process of becoming life long best friends to an appreciative child. I have been lucky enough to have the privilege, I am glad you get to do so as well.