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Marrying With Children

Kristen Houghton

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 • 4:22pm

You're in love, you're getting married; life looks good and beautiful. There's only one minor hitch; besides becoming a new husband or wife you're going to become an instant Dad or Mom. One of the hardest jobs to take on is becoming a step-parent. The job becomes even more difficult if this is your first foray into parenthood. If you've never had the responsibility of being a mom or dad, the prospect of becoming one as a step-parent can be a frightening one. Having a baby, a little bundle who will grow along with us as we perfect our new parenting skills is one thing.

But becoming an instant parent of an older child brings not only our never used parenting skills into question but our status as a member of the family. The child was there first and we can be made to feel like an interloper in an established family unit. Step-parenting is an art that must be learned and perfected. When your repeated efforts to make them feel comfortable with you as a permanent household member are rebuffed, you can feel like an unwanted visitor in your own home. That is an uncomfortable feeling and can have an impact on your new marriage as well as any relationship you hope to have with a child.

My friend Ani remembers that her brand-new, 11-year-old step-daughter, criticized everything she did especially cooking. "I knew this was a transition period for both of us so I decided to wait it out. One Saturday when I had made pancakes for everyone, my step-daughter told me she wasn't going to eat them because, 'They're not like Mommy makes them.' I asked her to tell me how I could make them taste like her mom's. She told me her mom added a little bit of cream to the mix and together we made a new batch. That started a warming period in our relationship."

It helps to remember that it is probably not you personally whom the child doesn't like, it's the idea of who and what you represent. You are the step-parent, the one the child feels has taken their real Mommy's or Daddy's place. No matter how wonderful, understanding, and kind you may be, and no matter how much they may want to warm up to you, children will feel conflicted about loving a step-parent. It's a loyalty thing, a guilt reaction. Their reasoning is that, "I can't love this new person. That mean I'm forgetting my real mom or dad." The best way to create a happy family is to be completely honest with the child. Tell him or her that you wouldn't ever want to take the place of their mom or dad but that you really want be part of the family as a respected step-parent. Emphasize the love you have for the parent you married and your desire that you all live in happiness together.

 Don't be the disciplinarian either. That's not your job. You can have an input into what is appropriate behavior and what is not, but if you punish a child it will only cause resentment. No matter how tempting, never ever speak badly of the parent who is not there. No one, especially a child, needs to hear negative words about someone they miss.

Childhood loyalty is strong. If at all possible, be on good terms with the other parent. You will be seeing him or her at school and sports functions possibly for years to come. My step-mom made it a point to take my mother out to dinner a couple of times a year. She did it for my sake and it made life easier for everyone involved. No hassles or angry times at special events during childhood. Remember that it will take time and effort to establish a good relationship but that, for harmony sake and a happy family, it is worth it all. Step-parenting is an art and like all good works of art, takes time and patience.

 2014 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reseved

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