Taking on the role of a stepparent in an already joined family is not an easy task. Emotions run high for not only the stepparent but the immediate AND extended families. Setting boundaries as a first time stepparent is an essential part of creating new norms and forming lasting bonds.
Have you ever played the childhood game called Red Rover? In this game the children form two lines facing each other, interlock their hands and arms, and one person from the opposite team then runs and tries to break through the line. The more this person attempts to run and push harder against the interlocking hands, the harder this line sticks together to keep this person out.
Many stepparents feel like a player in this game when they first enter an already formed family. The more they try to break through the family bonding line, the harder it is to fit in. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send the stepparent over!”
Many biological parents and their extended family may find it hard to understand how a stepparent really feels when they first join the family. Before I married my husband, his family was there to offer much appreciated help, when needed, with his daughter. His family had this dynamic that was already formed before I first came into the picture.
This was not an easy situation for me to come into because I wanted to come in and be a part of my husband’s, his daughter’s, and his family’s life. One big happy family, right?! I would just quickly slip in and help with being a parent in his already formed family. I thought it would be easy!
This is where most stepparents struggle and come to confusion. They start to feel like an outsider when they first marry someone who already has a child and a formed family bond with their extended family. You feel as though you are the little, fluffy puppy that everyone wants in the beginning because it is cute and a seemingly good idea to have around. However, once the puppy becomes older and starts to get its voice, this puppy loses what it first had towards this family and may not be as enjoyable.
The family that you marry into may think that they would never make a stepparent feel like an outsider. Some families do work with you on becoming involved right away, and other families have a tough time letting you become involved. They often feel as though they know best. This can make it hard for you as a stepparent to understand your role because you are trying to learn but keep getting pushed aside.
My husband has always done a wonderful job trying to see my perspective as a stepmom. He has always reassured me when I felt awkward by explaining why things were the way things were. And I remained open with him with my feelings. I know that he does not have the easy job of being a biological parent to my stepdaughter. But he does an excellent job with handling everything that comes his way.
As a stepparent, it is important to remember that it is not just you feeling the shift in the family dynamic. The extended families are also learning that another person is entering their family. This is a huge change and come with a high learning curve. For example, holidays, birthdays, family traditions, and vacations may now be different.
When you first become a stepparent, set your boundaries on where you would like to be. Understand your role. Discuss this with your new spouse as well and work together on establishing your parenting role within your new family. Establishing boundaries within a new family is a tough task but it can be one with a reward, especially when you are feeling like an outsider.
Here are six steps that I advise my clients to follow.
- Identify where you can and cannot fit in. Look at your life situation and see where the boundaries exist.
- Identify if there is conflict. Do you take responsibility for your actions that you are choosing to take? Remember, only you can control you.
- Receive the compliments. Learn to respond and receive their love.
- Practice your no. Begin to understand your boundaries if you do not want to take on a certain role. This takes time and patience.
- Respond and do not react. When you react to a boundary, you may have an issue with their boundaries. When you respond without reacting, you are in control.
- Understanding your boundaries will help you with your freedom as a stepparent.
Learning how to be a stepparent in an already joined family is not easy but it can be accomplished. After all, it’s not about who you are as a stepparent but who you are to your stepchild. By having patience, love and understanding, it can create a healthy, loving, life-long relationship. Understanding and learning your step parenting roles can help you see that there is a great future ahead of you.