Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Absolute Best Stepparenting Advice

We can debate all day and night whether what's important to you should be important to your stepkids.

First, it depends on your "agreement" with your husband of what they will or should learn and how you are going to parent together. That always comes first and foremost, as long as your husband does actually discuss agreements with you and listen to you. (I know that many stepmoms out there are not in my lucky situation and do not have husbands that will listen or support your thoughts in many things, so this may not be the "first and foremost" for you given that situation.)

Second, your opinion and thoughts and experiences do matter. But the debate really comes in when you start to wonder, and second guess yourself, and argue with others about what should and should not be expressed or important to raising the stepkids in your home. That's the hard part.

We each have a lot to offer our stepkids, whether you, they, or your in-laws think so or not. You are in their life for a reason, as I posted in the past. But it still leaves a lot of us wondering, and even debating ourselves internally, about whether or not we should stress certain things to them or enforce certain rules to the extent we want to.

I'm hung up on that all of the time. Sometimes it's as an after-thought where I'm wondering if I should make such a big deal out of something. Other times, I'm thinking in that lull period between seeing them about whether it would be a mistake or not to confront (or attack) some certain issue.

At other times, I let others give their opinions. I welcomed feedback from my in-laws and others. But overtime and many conversations, I've realized no one is in my situation and their advice usually does not apply. I hear them and realize they are just wrong, sometimes. I can see how much they don't understand and what they are definitely not experiencing with me. This is not to say that what anyone else says it useless, but stepparenting is so weird... It really is an exceptional (as in rare, yet isn't) experience. I have met many, many other stepparents. But each situation is ENTIRELY different. Even the details in a stepfamily make every instance and situation different.

The best is simply relating to each other that it is a struggle and sharing some stories. That is the best we can usually offer. We can share our experiences to each other, but expect the other adult to make their own decisions or say what they need to say. Just like a regular parent would. Parents do things their own way, and stepparents, frankly, will as well.

I've come to realize it's much less an issue of making right choices or decisions on what to enforce and not enforce, what to talk about and not talk about, and more of an issue of acceptance. Many adults, like the kids, do not see stepparents as official authorities. And, I would say, not even secondary. I think many parents that were not stepparents themselves believe that stepparents should be somewhat voiceless bystanders. (Again, a situation in which if you summarized it in that way, the other person would completely deny.) In many of our situations, though, that is not possible. We are an assistant parent, if you will. We are often the only parent present. We are the one there. We are the one responsible for them. And if we have personal standards for ourselves or others in our home, then we will likely express them.

The absolute best advice I've ever received about making stepparenting decisions is: BE CONSISTENT. Within the same week or so, multiple stepparents/parents expressed this to me in different conversations. I was struggling with all of the mixed messages out there and how to live in my own home and *not* express or enforce certain things I wasn't sure about. Finally- and I really mean "finally"- those few individuals told me that the absolute best thing I can do, and with my husband, is to just be consistent.

So often, the parent with the problems, with more time-share custody or not, is the person who is in some way unstable...And therefore inconsistent. The inconsistency is what makes the kids so confused and effects them so badly. It causes so many problems. Yes, there are a lack of values and other significant concerns usually with a problem ex-spouse/bio-parent- but their parenting style is not *consistent*. Others have put it for decades as "kids need structure." And many parents know that structure includes levels of consistency for discipline, life, teachings, parenting, etc. It's a very good and simple way to explain a lot of the problems with the 2 household life. Kids are torn between two homes, with different values, standards, and even schedules.

But when I started expressing my confusion and second-guessing-myself troubles, those few individuals out there used the same words- That my husband and I can offer consistency. It's less about what you talk about and what you care about, they said, and much more about being consistent with what you care about and talk about. The kids may not value what we teach or may be told something different when we leave, but if they can expect the same things from us now and in the future, then it shows our character, makes it more clear to them who we are, and teaches those same lessons over time rather than sporadically like an inconsistent, unstable parent and household.

That gave me relief, and I wanted to share it with you. Be consistent. Try not to worry so much about what you do and don't say. You are awesome, can be awesome, and you have something to offer them whether they want to realize it now or later. Be consistent in yourself. You may need to rediscover yourself. And when you find yourself second-guessing, ask what's important to you. Don't ask your in-laws or non-stepparents. And if you have to ask, ask your husband or another stepparent in a similar situation.

Overall, be yourself. And that will be consistent.

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