Twelve Mistakes to Avoid in Stepparenting

Table of contents

Staying angry, arguing, making kids the messenger

  • Staying angry or bitter

  • Staying angry or bitter at your ES (or your spouse's ex) is a good way to fall flat on your face in a blended family. Kids can read your expression and hear in your voice that you really hate their other biological parent. It makes them feel disloyal, guilty, and insecure, emotions most parents don't want their kids to feel.

    These emotions also are not healthy for you, as they create additional stress, which raises your blood pressure, affects your digestive tract, triggers head and neck aches, and can also affect your immune system. While you don't have to actually like your ES, remember that your kids have his or her genes, too. Put the past behind you. Use exercise to rid yourself of the anger you've stored up. Anger can be harmful to your health and your kids' health as well.

  • Arguing for the sake of arguing

  • George Bernard Shaw said, "The test of a man or woman's breeding is how they behave in a quarrel." Today he might have added, "...with an ex-spouse." Can you honestly say that you have never argued with your ES just for the sake of winning the argument, of proving your point? Chances are the issue really wasn't that important, if indeed you even remember what it was.

    Keep your discussions with your ES to the point, focused on what's best for your children. Any time the discussion moves off subject and perhaps onto an issue from your former marriage, pull it (dragging and screaming, if necessary) back to your central concern: your kids.

    Still enjoy arguing? Join a debating society.

  • Making children the messengers

  • This is a massive no-no. You might as well play tug-of-war with the kids, substituting them as the rope. When you force your children to carry messages back and forth, you put them in a difficult and stressful position. They feel resentful at being used—which they are—and disloyal to one or both of you. (They also may mess up the message and quote you incorrectly.) What's more, when you make your kids your messenger, you also are empowering them to represent you. Are you really sure you want to do that?

    If you really are miffed that the kids come to stay with you looking like characters from Oliver Twist, call Fagin (or Ms. Fagin) yourself and ask that the kids be returned in the clothes they were wearing when they went to "the other" house. Better yet, ask yourself if, in the real scheme of things, it is all that important. Just keep the good stuff at your house.

    Don't have the kids ask the other spouse for money, either. If you haven't received your child support, that's an issue to be discussed by adults, not kids. If you need to put someone in the middle, make it your lawyer.