ADVICE: Step Talk with Alexandra Mortensen

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Many parents offer the advice to be your child’s parent first and their friend second, but what about stepparents? It seems to be a common consensus among bonus parents that they often feel like glorified babysitters. While that description sounds negative, you might be surprised that I actually think it can be a great way to wrap your head around your role.

Let’s look at our three “options,” so to speak.

Friend. Understandably, a stepparent — especially one new to the scene — may attempt to be their stepchild’s friend. Why? Because they want them to like them, of course. Everyone getting along creates a happy household. Plus, who wants to be the evil stepparent? The child or children disliking or even hating you can create a wedge between you and your spouse and make all of your lives miserable.

However, just like parenting, I don’t believe that stepparents should be viewed as a friend. The level of “power” you have to discipline, influence, etc. will differ depending on your specific situation, but you are still an adult. Much like teachers and coaches, you should be looked up to with respect as you try to do your part to help the child grow into a healthy, happy, successful adult.

Foe. Some well-intentioned stepparents enter the scene guns blazing. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re simply trying to establish themselves as a loving, but authoritative parent. Perhaps they’re trying to prevent future issues with the children not listening to them and think if they’re strict now, they won’t have to be even stricter down the road.

However you and your spouse have chosen to define your role, my advice is to ease into that role together as a family. When you come in hot, you may alienate your stepchild and prolong or even prevent the close relationship you want to have with them.

Babysitter. Yes, I don’t think this is a bad way to look at it! Assuming, of course, that we’re talking about the babysitter that’s a straight A student, took a CPR class and really is doing their best. Not the babysitter who lets the kids watch TV all night while they hang out with a friend they invited over.

I see the similarities between babysitting and stepparenting because babysitters carry out the wishes of the parent. The parent expects the babysitter to not go rogue and create their own rules and the parent also expects the children to treat the babysitter with the same respect they give to their parents.

Of course, you want a deeper relationship that just that of a babysitter. The parallel is simply a helpful way to paint the picture of your parameters so you’re neither friend nor foe--but instead a loving, respected stepparent.

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