ADVICE: Step Talk with Alexandra Mortensen

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A new school year is upon us and with that comes more opportunities for a blended family to...blend! The academics are just beginning, but before we know it parent-teacher conferences will be on our radar. This is an occasion that can be awkward for stepparents — especially new stepparents.

To go or not to go? It’s not always a clear choice to make. I never had stepparents, but I am a child of divorce, so I’m able to attest firsthand how awkward these events can be for the children. I can remember being mortified and just keeping my face down and coloring because it was so uncomfortable to have both of my parents sitting at a table with me. It wasn’t my norm and even though everyone was on great behavior, the tension couldn’t be ignored.

Deciding if stepparents should attend these conferences should, of course, be a group decision. First and foremost, please don’t go if the driving factor behind your attendance is to make the other parent uncomfortable or turn it into a competition. Trust me, I fully understand the temptation, but that’s focusing on yourself instead of the child.

Assuming that’s not part of the picture, how do you decide if you should go? Personally, if you’re dating — even if you’re serious — but you haven’t yet chosen to make a lifelong commitment, my vote is to hold off on going. I feel that this overcomplicates the situation for the child or children and falls a bit into the category of putting the cart before the horse. It’s hard on kids to go through multiple sets of stepparents, so don’t fully step (no pun intended) into that role until you’re as sure as possible that you will be their stepparent for the long haul.

The next thing I’d recommend considering is how the child feels about it. Blending a blended family can be surprisingly smooth or bumpy and painful for longer than anyone expected. If the child feels hesitant, perhaps the biological parent should sit down with them and explain why they’d like the stepparent to go. Being the child in this situation can be a powerless feeling and sometimes simply allowing them to feel involved in decisions and feel heard can help open metaphorical doors.

If your reason for being there is the child, everyone feels positive about it and you’ve made a commitment that you’re the stepparent for the long haul, I say go! You very well may have your fair share of turns making sure homework is being completed, paying particular attention to subjects they struggle with more and helping keep a structure in place, so it will probably be quite beneficial.

You are one of the loving parents raising this child and these seemingly mundane events can be a great way to really come together as a family unit.

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