You’ve remarried after a death, divorce or a separation. But what if your new spouse is not a parent? Can you still rely on him or her to help you take care of your children from a previous marriage?
Of course! In fact, your new spouse’s lack of experience may help bring in a fresh and unbiased perspective to your daily child-rearing tasks. Keep in mind that many excellent school teachers don’t yet have kids of their own. What they have, however, is a love of children. If your new partner is the nurturing type, looking forward to developing a relationship with your kids, he or she can be very successful in the parenting role. However, there are challenges in being an experienced parent living with an inexperienced, non-biological parent. A biological parent is often more “forgiving” than an outsider, tending to overlook certain obnoxious behaviors of one’s own kids. Outsiders see these behaviors more clearly and often have less tolerance for them. A biogical parent may be more protective of his or her kids as well, worrying about hurting their fragile egos. Outsiders may be tougher on kids, expecting them to be able to withstand more. Biological parents may put up with more disrespect, accepting it in the give and take of a loving relationship. Outsiders can be shocked and dismayed at the rude behavior of children, refusing to tolerate even a fraction of it. All of these common issues can lead to conflict between new spouses in the reconstituted family.
To avoid parenting problems with your non-parent partner, consider the following:
Everyone Has a Nurturing Side
The fact that your spouse hasn’t been a parent doesn’t mean that he or she lacks parenting skills. As a son or a daughter, your spouse has opinions and values regarding family life. He or she may also have had practicum training in child-rearing as an aunt, uncle, babysitter, tutor or cousin or perhaps in a career working with kids. Don’t discount what your new spouse can bring to the table. Remember, you were a newbie once too and you did alright!
Just be Patient — Cut some Slack!
Don’t underestimate your new spouse’s skills, but also accept that an adjustment period is expected. Making the transition from single to parent is hard on anyone. If your kids are little people already (older than a year or two), the task of becoming a parent is all the more challenging. There is no time to grow slowly into the role as natural parents do. It’s a crash course – with lots of expected crashes.
Sit down and share with your spouse all you know. Give them a copy of the book Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice as well as other resources. Employ the services of a professional counselor or parent educator to guide the two of you through parenting issues (it’s usually easier on your partner than having YOU be the “expert”). Support him or her as he finds his way around discipline issues, love and affection, and perhaps even being a breadwinner. Schedule quality family time, so that your spouse can get to know your children better. Let your kids know that, despite being a new parent, their new step-mom or dad is eager to learn — and cares for them very much. In no time a new system will form, and your spouse will feel more at home with his new role in your family.
Negotiate Your Spouse’s New Role
A step parent is a special kind of parent, and understandably has a non-traditional parenting role to play. If your ex-spouse is still alive, and still plays an active role in your children’s life, your new spouse need not assume all parenting duties in your home. He or she is not a replacement for your children’s real parent, and may in fact play an important but primarily supportive role.
Perhaps he or she can be more like a loving aunt or uncle. There’s nothing wrong with taking a backseat in a blended family structure. It’s certainly helpful if you, your new spouse and your ex are all on the same page regarding the kind of family you want to raise, and the kind of parenting style you want to employ.