Unlike the negative portrayal of step-parenting in fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White, the real life experience can be a positive one. The basic parenting guidelines remain the same—provide the child with a sense of belonging, security and unconditional acceptance. But here are some additional steps to follow when introducing a step-parent into your child’s life…
Communicate: Talk to your children about the new person in your life. Based on their [favourable] response, give them the details about where you met, why you like him/her, etc. Give your children the space and time to evaluate their feelings. Also, give them the freedom to express their feelings and opinions. If they seem upset, allow them to vent their feelings and wait for them to get used to this new development.
Be honest: Being honest about your relationship and where it is heading is important. It takes away the surprise element from the picture, allowing your children the time to mentally prepare themselves to accept the new parent. Try to respond to all queries calmly to allay any fears. Remember, it is normal for a child to have reservations. Do not react with anger and counter his/her response with over justification in defense of your relationship.
Have an informal introduction and casual meetings: Provide multiple opportunities to your child and your partner to interact with each other in low pressure situations. Busy workdays and large family gatherings are not the right choices. Weekends or holidays, half day picnics or quiet dinners at home are a great start to getting to know each other. As they get comfortable with each other, progress to having your children spend the entire day with your partner, sometimes in your absence.
Spend time with your child: This is especially important after your children have met with your partner. Answer their questions in the best possible way. Allay their fears of abandonment by stressing on the fact that you will always be their parent, no matter what. You will be there with them every step of the way and now they will have another parent to share their thoughts and feelings with.
Talk about the logistics of the decision: Here is a list of some of the things that you should go over with your child [after a discussion with your to-be-spouse]:
- Where will you stay?
- If you move into a new house, will your child be able to take his/her belongings along?
- Will he go to the same school?
- Who will drop and pick him from the school/ bus stop?
- Will he have new rules and a new structure with this change?
Once you and your partner are married, continue to communicate with your child. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a continuing dialogue through this transition and thereafter. Remember, your child is an individual with his own mind. Respect his needs and he will respect you. Listen to what he says and keep the channel of communication open.
In your enthusiasm to ensure everything is going well, remember to take a back seat once in a while. Take a hiatus from some of the daily activities that you did with your child. Let your partner take over. Setting new daily rituals such as a game of scrabble before dinner, a walk in the evening or reading bedtime stories go a long way in creating a bond.
Do not shield your child unnecessarily from your partner. Have faith in your spouse and allow him/her to discipline ‘your’ child. You are now a family and you need to give your spouse the freedom to have a one-on-one relationship with your child. Beside, it sends out a consistent message. Only then, will you function as a cohesive unit.
A word of caution
You might come across an increase in emotional demands and associated tantrums. Your child may sulk more often or become unnervingly quiet for a few weeks to a few months. S/he may even ignore the new parent or deny their very presence. All of this is normal and is a part of the process of acceptance. Keep your cool.
This was first published in the October 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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