Being a Step-Parent is challenging, but it’s honestly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s one hell of a journey with twists and turns, ups and downs, but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
The first time I met Ryan he was quite shy and cautious, which was to be expected as in quite a short amount of time he went from having his Mum and Dad together, to separating, moving into another home, having a new male role model introduced into his life and then a few months later having me introduced too. It’s a lot for any child to go through, and he was only 3 at the time. We started things slowly. Jordan and myself had been seeing each other for a good few months before we felt it was time to introduce us, and it wasn’t a “here’s your new Mummy” experience at all. Our first day together we went out for breakfast and went to the beach, enjoyed a lovely day together and after it I went back home. We had many days like this where we’d pick each other up, spend a few hours together and then make plans for another day. After a couple of months like this, I started staying over more when Ryan was there so we were more like a family instead of just a friend who came to hang out. Ryan got to see us acting like a couple and we became a real little family. Over the following 5 years we’ve gone from strength to strength, and now we’re at the point where if I date to lay in on a Sunday morning, come 9am I’ll be jumped on by a not-so-little monkey wanting me to get up. The journey to get us here wasn’t straight forward and at some points it felt like it was one step forward 5 streps back, but on reflection I can see there’s certain things that worked much better than others, so I thought I would share them with you.
Don’t Just Hear. LISTEN.
There will be arguments. There will be tantrums. There will be tears, not just from the child but sometimes from you parents too. I find that these come together every few months for a rough week or two as the child goes through phases. Sometimes after a new sibling is introduced, maybe after starting school, but almost certainly after some kind of change to their routine. I try very hard not to get involved in arguments with the family, and quite honestly the only person I really argue with at all (and even that’s rarely) is my partner. If things start getting heated, I’ll listen to what both Jordan and Ryan say, and only interject when I feel I really need to. I’ll typically be the moderator, and I find that personally that role suits me best. After the disagreement is done, I’ll speak to both of them. I tend to speak to Jordan first and hear his side, then I’ll go and talk to Ryan. After they’ve both calmed down they need someone to speak to, sometime for advice, sometimes just to vent. If your step-child feels like they can talk to you openly and honestly about anything, trust me it will improve the relationship hugely. There will be obstacles at first. I heard nothing but “You’ll just agree with Daddy” after almost everything, but keep trying and you’ll get through.
Patience And Boundaries
Every child on this planet needs patience, but you need to establish boundaries too. Recently, Jordan asked Ryan who was the strict one out of us and I wasn’t really shocked when he said me. But he did say I was ‘fair’ which made me feel good. When our relationship was new, with no kids of my own and no helpful internet advice, I left Jordan to do the ‘tough’ part of parenting because 1) I didn’t really think it was my place to discipline his child and 2) I wanted to be the nice parent. As the relationship grew between the three of us, I felt like I should step up and support Jordan and ever since I’ve been slowly become the ‘strict but fair’ one. Ryan and myself spend a lot of time just the two of us, especially as me and Jordan both work shifts, and I can honestly say since I’ve met Ryan he has very rarely been naughty for me when I’ve been solo-parenting. I can only link this to the fact that I have put boundaries in place, and I don’t waver from them. Example: If Ryan is doing something I’ve asked him not to do, or if he’s protesting doing something I’ve asked him to, he gets 3 chances. First chance he is asked, second chance he is reminded, third chance he is presented with ‘the punishment’. A current favourite is no Fortnite for blah days because it’s a small punishment, but it’s not stopping him from going out with friends or stop him from taking part in activities that he enjoys. Sure, he misses the game but no long term harm or resentment will grow. Ryan has learnt that if I say that and he carries on with the behaviour, he will receive the punishment. Jordan is not as strict and I think Ryan has learnt that he gets more chances with him than me, but if Ryan thinks I’m stricter, but fair, I’m happy.
Time Together, And Time Apart
For a child, going from living with Mum and Dad to just Mum, then introducing the Step Parents is hard. I wanted to make sure Ryan knew that just because me and Jordan were together didn’t mean he wouldn’t get time with his Dad. It wasn’t taking someone away, but gaining another. Like I’ve said above, going slowly is a really good start. You can’t expect a child to just accept having a stranger enter their life and for it to all go smoothly. What we’ve done throughout our relationship (and still to this day) is have Dad Days, and Hanna Days. Sometimes it’s just a few hours where Jordan will take him out to play football so they get quality time together, and I take him to the cinema and maybe to Pizza Hut for a treat. Time separately is just as important as time together!
Support Them, Regardless.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ll write. Be there. Football event, be there. School nativity, be there. Show them you care, because words don’t mean a lot to kids. If you can’t get to something important to them because of work or other commitments, don’t beat yourself up about it. These things happen! But make every effort to go, and if you can’t ask them to tell you everything about it. Be interested in them. Show them you love them. Kisses, cuddles, bedtime stories. Get involved. It’s very true that you reap what you sow, so plant those kindness seeds and enjoy every moment you can with your bonus child!