Twelve Mistakes to Avoid in Stepparenting

Table of contents

Not listening and having to be right

  • Speaking without listening

  • Babies have it right. They do a lot of listening before they start to babble. And they really don't start talking until they've listened a great deal more. Somehow we adults have lost this ability, and this lacking causes a lot of problems.

    When you really listen to your stepkids without thinking about what you're going to do next or how you will respond, you often hear what they're not saying. Their hesitancy to bond with you may be that they're afraid you'll leave them (or die), Just like their biological parent did. They may still be angry with their parents for getting a divorce and their anger spills over to you just because you're there. They also may be saying that you're moving too fast; telling you to just put on a "friend face," as they're not ready to accept another adult in a parenting mask just yet.

    If you're the biological parent, you may be jumping in to tell your new spouse to stop criticizing your kids, without listening to discover that maybe they really do need a little tighter rein. You may not hear your spouse's unspoken plead, "Let me be part of the family, rather than a mute who stands by while your kids treat you with disrespect."

    Listen before you speak. That's a part of communication too.

  • Having to always be right

  • You probably wouldn't go to a foreign country and begin to tell the natives what they're doing wrong. Yet many stepparents report that they feel a little like the Marines—needed to come in to clean up the mess.

    "My stepson was ten when I married his mother," a New England sports personality said. "He had been the man of the house since he was three. I had never had a child so I guess I came on a little too authoritative. My wife still tells me I can't give orders. My advice to others would be not to come on too strong. You have to understand that kids operate by a different set of rules. You have to change the way you listen and speak."

    There is more than one way to do most things. Check out the landscape and see what your spouse has been accomplishing as a single parent. If you think yours is a better, faster, more economical, or simpler way, discuss it in private before you suggest it to the children.

    "It's different if you've never been a parent before," a thirty-three-year-old architect said. "You need to know something about parenting, developmental stages, and basically, how kids work. Coming in when your stepson is four is a little like opening a book in the middle of Chapter Four, not at the chapter on infancy. Healthy communication with your spouse helps a lot. My wife listens to my advice (even if she doesn't always take it). She thinks it's good to have a partner willing to find solutions. We really work well together."