Marrying someone who has children is more than just getting married -- it's investing in a family. That's an investment that takes time, attention and nourishment to grow and flourish.
Allow the kids to have some breathing room as they get used to your new family dynamic. But also try to include them in everything possible. Basically, reach out to them, but understand that it will take time to develop that sense of history and understanding. "The role of step-parent is tough under the best of circumstances, but by gently navigating your way it is possible to define your role for a child and become a very special influence," says stepmother Rita Barry-Corke of BarryCorke Communications.
"Thankfully, I have become a strong, reliable adult in my stepson's life. He knows I love him, respect him, want the best for him and have the unique ability to give him adult guidance from the trusted place of a parental equivalent, but without the same weighted stature of his Mom or Dad. It works for us," says Barry-Corke.
"We never had the struggles of 'you're not my Mom!', because I never tried to be their Mom, nor did I try to be too much of a buddy. My secret is striking a balance between friendship and authority. I was fortunate that my husband and I had agreed early on that we would never override the other when it came to discipline, or giving permission. If we had a disagreement regarding the kids, we would discuss it privately. My oldest daughter says it best, 'You're like a best friend that can make me clean my room!'" says Diana Hathaway Timmons, a stepmother and author of Sell Your Home Without Losing Your Zen.
Apparently, someone disagreed. And they didn't ask me first.
In hindsight, I wish I had simply said, "Chris, you don't have to call me mommy just because your dad and I got married. You can call me Sarah or Mom, whichever you prefer." Unfortunately, my husband had me convinced that talking about it at all would result in hurt feelings. The thing is, I think him being told that he needed to call me Mommy did create some scaring that negatively impacted our relationship.
For young kids, what to call a step-parent can be a confusing question. My advice? Stick to what works for you -- a ring doesn't mean that you have to be called something else.
I talked to my new husband about this and he said I absolutely should participate in disciplining. I chose to do it via verbal corrections when needed and occasional timeouts when the verbal corrections failed.
"For a long time, there was a strong fear for him that I might leave. After his father and I married, much of that fear was lifted. Adding a new child to the family was especially difficult, because he was accustomed to being an only child in our home, and was not keen on having his world changed. I have found it is a constant balancing act, always trying to be fair to both boys," says stepmom Heather Kuhn of ConceptDesignStudio.
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