6 (or 7) “Nevers” for Stepparents to Heed when Co-Parenting

Co-parenting is hard enough when the parents are the divorced biological mother and father of the children.  It is almost a given that parenting styles will be starkly different, likely one of many factors leading to the divorce in the first place.  Now, let’s mix in one or two more personalities … the new spouses of each bio-parent, likely with parenting styles of their own, and you’ve created a recipe with all the necessary explosives for potential parental disaster.  If at all possible, stepparents should heed the following rules:

  1. Never direct your spouse to or how to punish/discipline the child.
  2. Never become your (step)child’s confidante by keeping secrets from your spouse.  As with biological children, stepchildren should maintain a parental relationship with their stepparents.  It is confusing for children when stepparents try to become their friends, and will backfire the moment a parental position needs to be asserted.
  3. Never “take sides,” with your new spouse’s ex, when discussing child-related issues.  As the new husband or wife, you will not want to be seen by your new spouse as forming an alliance with the ex-spouse.  Instead, make suggestions, offer insights to alternative views, or just be quietly supportive.
  4. Never get too invested in the edicts issued, because the parents may not follow through with the punishment, leaving you feeling bewildered.  After listening to and maybe even participating in the conversations about how you will all co-parent, when one parent “caves,” you have no standing to berade that parent for his or her failure.  Remember that the actions of mom and dad are often persuaded by other factors, not the least of which is wanting to “win over” the child’s affection.  Be sensitive to these underlying issues, and just take a deep breath.
  5. Never bring up old history to drive home your point.  (This goes for all relationships.)
  6. Never compare your stepchild’s negative characteristics to those of your spouse’s ex …pointing out the obvious isn’t necessary, and your spouse has likely already made the connection.
  7. Never say, “Never.”  What?  Whether parenting or co-parenting, it’s usually best not to give ultimatums or be so definitive in a decision as to rely on the term, “never.”  So, consider the above “nevers,” as guidelines for how to best manage your role as stepparent and relationship as new spouse/parent.  Offer opinions when solicited, and give advice or suggestions when asked.  Otherwise, be supportive in your spouse’s decision-making and recognize your role in the new family unit.

While you may treat your stepchildren as your own, loving them unconditionally as you would your own biological children, the fact is that you have a special and distinct role in the family, which is separate from mom and dad.  Recognizing and embracing this different role will help define you as a parental figure, while avoiding blurring the lines and confusing the children.