Step Talk: Savvy Stepparent Advice

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ALEXANDRA MORTENSEN / Contributing Writer

When it comes to blended families, it’s far from one size fits all. I can only speak from observation, but it seems that two biological parents have a fairly easy time drawing comparisons between their lives as parents. Throw a stepparent - or two - in the mix and it’s not quite the same. This is because blended families have so many variables.

In the past two years since I took on the title of stepmom, I’ve had many well-intentioned people offer me advice. While I appreciate the thought, it’s not always helpful because I’ve found that stepparenting can be a challenging subject to empathize with.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few tips for non-stepparents who want to support their stepparent friends.

1. Take time to fully understand their specific situation as a stepparent.

I was told at a large dinner gathering by a woman who used to be a stepmom and hadn’t asked me a single question about our situation that I’d “never be their mom.” How would she know that? Some stepchildren consider their stepparent to be their “real” parent while others resent their stepparents well into adulthood.

This is where those variables come in. How old was the child or children when the stepparent came into their lives? Are both biological parents in the picture? How many children are involved between the biological parents and stepparents? How does the child or children split their time? How do the stepchildren view the stepparent? As a parent? A friend? An enemy? All three depending on the day?

Please never assume that you immediately understand a blended family’s dynamic because you watched a movie about stepparenting or you know a stepparent or even because you are a stepparent yourself. I could sit down with another stepmom with two male stepsons and our situations could be very different.

2. Don’t underestimate the emotions involved.

Just because someone is “only” a stepparent doesn’t mean that they don’t have deep emotions tied to the children and those emotions may be painful at times. Many of us struggle with feeling like outsiders in our own families and finding our place. For me, I choose to give up having my own child in lieu of being a stepmom, and it’s a sensitive subject for me. It doesn’t mean we don’t want to open up. Just please remember that we’re not Meredith Blake in The Parent Trap.

3. Make sure they want advice and it’s the right setting.

This goes for parents of any nature, of course. You wouldn’t approach a parent post-toddler meltdown and give them unsolicited advice of what they did right and wrong. The same goes for us. Just like any other person, we’ll come to our friends and family and open up when we feel comfortable.

At the end of the day, regardless of the specifics of our particular blended family, we’re people doing our best to help raise children who will grow up to become happy, healthy and kind adults.

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