As you try to be an effective stepparent, you soon learn that something has to give; you must work harder or smarter. Juggling roles in the stepfamily is like that!
Becoming a stepparent is NOT for wimps! One of the most challenging roles adults play is that of a parent—one we're often unprepared to fulfill. That important role becomes even harder for stepparents as you assume a largely undefined role that's filled with inherent challenges—especially if you've never been a parent before.
Above all, stepparents must view their roles realistically. Many people who remarry hold a preconceived notion of how parenting should be, or believe that they'll work into it—both unrealistic expectations. No transition time after the wedding exists to evolve into the role and you become an "instant stepparent." Without an understanding of the best ways to play your role with your specific set of stepchildren, the challenges can overwhelm you, and you may feel as though you're failing. Without clarity and communication—with your partner and with the children—juggling your simultaneous roles as parent, partner, and steparent can quickly conflict. And that juggling doesn't even count your job, friends, hobbies, or personal time for yourself.
Stepparents who, at first, approach their role as a friend seem to be the most satisfied and successful. But you can choose other roles too—confidante, model, mentor, another parent figure. It's best to work out this important way to be with with the children gradually. Share your concern with them. "I've never been a stepparent before so let's try to work this out together. How shall we relate to one another?" might be a good way to approach such a conversation. After you and the children brainstorm possibilities, be sure to discuss it with their parent.
Trying to manage all these roles often requires some major juggling—with trial and error. And, of course, it requires time and practice!
You can read more about creating steppparent roles and rules in Chapter 9 of Strengthening Your Stepfamily. The book is also available on this website through Paypal.
Copyrighted materials. Please attribute to Elizabeth Einstein, MA/LMFT