Building a special relationship as a step-mom while respecting the biological parent’s role is vital. A child-first mentality requires all adult parties to prioritize the child’s needs above their own emotions, which means not badmouthing or undermining the biological parents while co-parenting.
There’s a reason so many fairytales give the villain role to the “evil stepmother.” With so many volatile emotions involved in families who have been separated and then blended, it can be challenging to break the stereotype and build a positive, healthy relationship with the children you are co-parenting together with your spouse and their ex.
Co-parenting has become an increasingly typical way of raising children. While it certainly implies that there have been some emotional ups and downs along the way, there is no reason why co-parenting as a step-mom and within a blended family has to be a negative experience.
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Co-Parenting Challenges and Concerns as a Step-Mom
The traditional nuclear family, which comprises two biological parents, living under one roof and parenting their children together, is becoming less commonplace. Families consisting of step-parents with their own children, coming together, creates a different dynamic entirely. As a step-mom, you may be feeling quite overwhelmed or anxious – especially considering the negative reputation step-moms have been given historically.
A step-mom is a woman married to the biological parent of a child or children but who is not their biological mother. Whether the biological mother is around or not (perhaps she is not in the picture or sadly has passed away), you have stepped into their lives by being married to their other parent and play an active role in co-parenting.
In many cases, children live at least partially with the biological parent the step-mom has married, which means the step-mother will have a role in their lives in some way or other. Co-parenting can be defined as the shared duties of bringing up children, usually in reference to biological parents who have separated and are no longer in a relationship but each play a role in raising their shared children.
So, while the parent of a child has to co-parent with the other parent they are not in a relationship with, so too does a step-mom have to co-parent alongside both biological parents. The dynamic can be stressful in some ways, especially if the relationship between the biological parents is rocky, and there are a few challenges that arise in these situations.
Unique Challenges of Co-Parenting as a Step-Mom
Since you are not biologically related to your spouse’s children and, in most cases, there are biological parents, your role as a step-mom comes with some unique challenges in terms of co-parenting. These may include:
- Time spent with the kids: In many cases, custody of the children is shared in some way or other, which means the children are not in your care all the time. It can be incredibly challenging to develop routines, boundaries, rules, and even solidify a relationship in limited time spent together.
- Blended families, blended systems: In cases where both you and your spouse each have your own children, combining the families means mixing two systems which have functioned in a certain way independently, which now have to connect in a beneficial way for everyone. Finding a middle ground can be daunting and very confusing for the kids initially.
- Big emotions: We can never underestimate the importance of the emotional consequences that children deal with following separation, divorce, death of a parent, and/or the subsequent remarriage of their other parent. Taking into account that this will affect the family dynamic is vital.
- Parenting styles: As with parenting your biological children, understanding the differences in parenting styles with your spouse is essential. And with step-parents in the mix, this makes for potentially four different parenting styles to consider.
- Feedback from the other parent: Tension from the other biological parent, especially if the relationship ended on bad terms, can make things very difficult. It is awkward between the adults, but it is often fed back through the children, who can undermine the role of the step-parent.
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Is a Child-First Mentality Good for Co-Parenting?
To have a child-first mentality in a blended family is more than just saying the children should come first. The scope of what it implies is extensive and requires that all adult parties need to be in agreement regarding how to raise the children, agreed upon rules and boundaries, and their expectations of co-parenting.
Putting the children first implies that the biological parents and step-parents – and extended family – need to prioritize the children’s needs and well-being above their own. This means that if you have negative feelings towards a biological parent or clash with one of the other adults in the family, you cannot allow it to affect the children or the way they are raised.
Whether you, as a step-mom, are on good terms with the child’s biological parent or not, the children must have equal opportunity to spend time with both of their biological parents and feel about them in a different way from yours. Simply put, you need to place your emotions aside.
In saying this, if you have concerns that access to a parent is harmful to your step-children, you should bring the issue to your spouse’s attention without bad-mouthing the other party. Few things are as detrimental to relationships in blended families as trying to discredit or tarnish the name of one of the children’s biological parents.
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How to Increase the Positives in the Step-Mom/Step-Child Relationship
To be successful in co-parenting as a step-mom, or even alongside a step-mom, it is essential to focus on the areas in which you can positively impact. This means taking a step back in certain ways and working towards a solid relationship with your step-children, first and foremost. Some practical tips to increasing the positives include:
- Realize your role is unique: You are not the child’s biological parent, and you shouldn’t try to take on that role. Take a step back. Allow the parents to parent – support your spouse, present a unified front, and take the opportunity to add value to the children’s lives uniquely. Be positive in your words and actions about your role, and do so openly for the children to see and hear.
- Spend time alone with your step-children: Building a solid relationship with the kids is especially important. Take the time to learn about them and get to know them. Developing a unique routine where you spend alone time with them is an excellent way of establishing a positive relationship that can foster trust.
- Avoid discipline right off the bat: Your role is not to discipline or be a stand-in parent. Supporting the rules the biological parents have put in place is the right way to handle situations that require discipline, but stepping back to allow the parents to deal with behavior that needs to be corrected is imperative; especially in the early stages of your relationship with the kids.
- Encourage time with biological parents and curtailing your emotions: Regardless of how you feel about your spouse’s ex, you should keep your feelings to yourself and encourage the children’s relationship with both their biological parents. The children should never feel bad about spending time with their parents or step-parents.
- Don’t pick sides: Going against your spouse to win over the children is a bad idea. It is essential to take a back seat when your spouse or spouse’s ex needs to discipline the children. Going against their wishes is akin to badmouthing them and creates an “us vs. them” mentality that is highly distressing for the kids.
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With the right attitude and good communication, biological parents and step-parents can be successful at co-parenting. Despite your personal feelings and attitudes, a child-first mentality and remaining respectful are vital to creating a healthy environment for the children.
In your journey as a step-mom, building a positive relationship with your step-children is essential, and realizing your unique position in their lives isn’t as a replacement parent or a way to one-up your spouse’s ex will go a long way to ensuring the children experience family life in a good way.