Zach, what in the hell are you doing writing a blog about step-parenting when you have absolutely no experience as such? Fair question. First, I have some insight here, as you’ll see. Second, I’ll answer like this – The former pitching coach for my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, Dave Duncan, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, is widely considered to be the best pitching coach in baseball. However, Dave Duncan wasn’t a pitcher, he was a catcher, but he observed a lot of pitchers. Same here. I’m a step kid. My son is a step kid. I have a step sister and a step brother. My sister is a step kid. My dad is a step father and I obviously have a step mom. So like Dave Duncan, I’ve done a lot of observing. To round out my resume, I recently spent a whole lot of time dating a mother of two boys and a beautiful girl, all of whom I miss dearly here in Indo.
Being a step parent isn’t easy and there’s no handbook. I know this because my Dad is one of the kindest, most patient men in the world, but that didn’t exactly translate into being a good step-parent. He’s my benchmark when it comes to being a husband and father, but at times, his role as a step Dad tried his patience to the breaking point. Not because there was a lack of love, but of a lack of clear understanding into what is, and more importantly what isn’t, a requirement of the job. This is complicated by the fact that you’re dealing with kids, who often behave outside the realm of reason and reality, especially when put into a new and unusual situation. They’re not bad kids, it’s just what kids do.
When I was introduced to Jen’s kids, I tried to put myself in their shoes, bowling shoes to be specific. It was their little world that required MY acclimation, not the other way around. I reflected on my experience as a step kid and my father’s struggles as a step Dad and with all of that experience and information, I preceded to do nothing. I kept my mouth shut. I observed. And as a result of all of the things I didn’t do, Jen’s kids fell in love with me. And I fell in love with them.
Step 1 – Keep Your Mouth Shut
The first mistake made by most step parents is to try and assert themselves as an authority figure. The common misunderstanding is that if you don’t stand up for yourself immediately and demonstratively, you’ll be the victim of abuse for as long as the children are under your roof. Don’t do that. Respect isn’t demanded, it’s earned. Be patient and kind and leave the discipline to your partner. There are no BUTs about this step. No caveats, no “what ifs.” Leave all discipline to the parents. Sure, if big brother has little brother in a submission hold and little brother taps out, please intervene, but don’t discipline. Keep you mouth shut.
Step 2 – Keep Your Mouth Shut
The best conversationalists don’t have to say a word. They merely listen and facilitate with a question or a nod and let their counterpart do the talking. People like to hear themselves talk and they don’t like to be talked at. The same can be said of your step kids. They don’t want to hear you talk, they want to hear themselves talk. They want to feel important. So keep your mouth shut and let them talk. And genuinely listen to what they have to say.
Step 3 – Keep Your Mouth Shut
Regardless of the situation, everyone involved is experiencing change. As the adult, you need to acclimate to the kids, not the other way around. In order to do this you need to listen, and that’s hard to do if you’re setting rules and talking over the top of them. Keep your mouth shut and give the situation a chance to develop naturally, without long lists of rules and regulation.
Step 4 – Keep Your Mouth Shut
If you find yourself witness to an argument between your partner and the step kid, your natural reaction will be to come the rescue of your partner. Don’t do that. Keep your mouth shut. Your partner is an adult. This ain’t her first rodeo. She can take care of herself, especially in regard to her children.
Step 5 – Keep Your Mouth Shut
Never say a disparaging word about your partner’s ex. Even if she is in the middle of a colorful rant about something legitimately stupid that her ex has done, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. If you want to alienate yourself from a kid, start talking smack about their Mom or Dad.
Step 6 – Be Wonderful to Their Mom
You thought I was going to say keep your mouth shut, right? You can’t keep your mouth shut all the time, so when it’s open, make sure it’s saying wonderful things about their mother. Kids aren’t stupid. They’ll always have loyalties to their biological parents, but they’re smart enough to know that anyone that makes Mom happy is good for them too. So make her happy every chance you get.
Depending on your relationship, this could be the easiest step or it could be the hardest. If it’s the hardest, you should probably just leave. Wouldn’t you rather be alone and be alone, rather than be with someone and be alone. Not to mention the poor kids that have to bear witness to your below average relationship. There is a reason people don’t like being alone… it’s lonely. However, with risk there is reward. You can’t expect to find wonderful while pacifying yourself with mediocre. So wait for something wonderful. Soon you’ll find that you’re not waiting at all, you’re actually living. This is when you’re ready for the wonderful. And trust me, the wonderful is worth not waiting for.