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Preventing the wicked stepparent syndrome

March 20, 2015

Here’s a great idea…

In his book, You and Your Adolescent, Laurence Steinburg says, “Couples often enter into second marriages with unrealistic expectations, only to crash against postmarital realities. The children make it abundantly clear that they did not promise to love, honor, and obey their parent’s new spouse. The wife may begin to feel more like Cinderella’s wicked stepmother; the husband wonders if his adolescent stepson is auditioning to play Hamlet” (pp. 60-61).

In other words…

Entering into a second marriage with children can be quite rocky no matter how in love the couple is. In the beginning, our children may have sharp tongues and bad attitudes. They may feel that they have already lost one parent (the one they no longer live with), and they may fear losing their other parent to a new spouse. They may also resent having another authority figure thrust upon them. We can be patient as we begin building a trusting relationship with them. It is okay for them to not love us immediately, and it is okay for us not to love our stepchildren immediately. Everyone needs time to adjust to the new family.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life…

In building a relationship of trust with your stepchild, do not try to replace or compete with the natural parent. Don’t pretend or force closeness. Let the child warm up to you by finding common interests and sharing them together. When it comes to resolving differences or dealing with misbehavior, remember that having emotional rapport with the child is a prerequisite to authority. Defer to the natural parent and their house rules. “Jenny, you know your mother expects you to put your clothes in the hamper after your shower.” versus “Look at this bathroom, it’s a disaster. I don’t care what your mom says, you will pick up after yourself!”

To find out more…

about parenting, check out Getting Our Hearts Right: Three Keys to Better Relationships, The Parenting Journey or See the World Through My Eyes programs at uaex.edu/parents, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read You and Your Adolescent.

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