Step Talk: Savvy Stepparent Advice

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ALEXANDRA MORTENSEN / Contributing Writer

When it comes to blended families, itís 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 itís 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, Iíve had many well-intentioned people offer me advice. While I appreciate the thought, itís not always helpful because Iíve found that stepparenting can be a challenging subject to empathize with.

With that in mind, Iíd 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 hadnít asked me a single question about our situation that Iíd ďnever be their mom.Ē How would she know that? Some stepchildren consider their stepparent to be their ďrealĒ 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 familyís 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. Donít underestimate the emotions involved.

Just because someone is ďonlyĒ a stepparent doesnít mean that they donít 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 itís a sensitive subject for me. It doesnít mean we donít want to open up. Just please remember that weíre not Meredith Blake in The Parent Trap.

3. Make sure they want advice and itís the right setting.

This goes for parents of any nature, of course. You wouldnít 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, weíll 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, weíre people doing our best to help raise children who will grow up to become happy, healthy and kind adults.

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