A Message to Biological Parents

28 10 2008

 

If you are a biological parent, read this closely. If you are a stepparent, read it and then pass it along to your partner. When two people make a commitment to give their love a go, everything starts out so beautifully. Compliments come easy. But once the normal complications arise of learning how to live with another human being and his or her children, frustration often replaces the warm feelings that started this whole business in the first place.

Arguments about discipline, parenting styles and unequal treatment of the children in the house, can turn love to anger, happiness to aggravation and tolerance to criticism. But here’s the deal: If you are a biological parent who has given your children a stepparent, you simply must give your partner the appreciation he or she deserves.

Bestselling relationship expert John Gray, the author of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, has first-hand experience of blended family life. When he married his wife, Bonnie, he became a stepfather of two girls. Later, he and Bonnie had a child of their own. “First, stepparents need to understand that the child will always, especially at the beginning, resent the stepfather or stepmother for replacing their real parent,” Gray says. “It’s a conflict because they want their real parent to be there for them. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that you’re filling in and it’s as if you’re replacing the birth parent. A stepparent has to recognize that the children are not going to be extremely grateful for or appreciate that much because in a sense you’re always in the way. So the spouse needs to compensate and make sure that they give you lots of acknowledgement and appreciation.”

I’ve received many letters from stepmoms angry with a spouse who takes it personally every time she tries to suggest a change in how to deal with a child’s behavior. Instead of having a discussion about how a problem could be handled, biological parents who are defensive of their children will often quickly shut down a stepparent, refusing to listen to anything they might feel is a criticism of their children. Gray explains how a bio parent should handle this touchy situation. “If you, the stepparent, are frustrated with the kids, your spouse has got to realize that she shouldn’t take it personally. Here the stepparent is behaving like a parent and not getting any of the recognition a parent normally gets. And they’ll never get it in most cases until the kids grow up. When the kids grow up, they do appreciate you enormously, so it’s kind of like a job where you don’t get paid for many years.”

Stepparents are volunteers who have signed up for life. A new stepmother or stepfather can try to be a role model and teach your children skills they didn’t have before. Even if your partner does things differently than you do, it’s crucial that you give your spouse open appreciation for all she does for you and your children. Do stepparents sometimes go too far with demands that the household change to suit them? Absolutely. But if you work on creating a partnership in which everything is open for discussion, then it’s easier for a stepparent to feel included in the household. Make your partner feel she did the right thing by saying yes to you and your kids.

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