I’ve written about disengaging from step-parenting a few times now. In posts like, Life as the Glorified Babysitter: What To Do When You And Your Husband Aren’t on the Same Page with the Kids and Step-Parenting Teenagers: Why This Stepmom Has Taken a Major Step Back, I talked about what stepmoms should do when:
A. Their relationship with their stepchildren is a bit rocky
B. They aren’t on the same page with their partner about rules and discipline with the kids
C. When they’re constantly looking like the bad guy…
The answer: DISENGAGE
Or to be more straight forward, take a step back and let their Mom + Dad take the lead.
In our family, when my stepkids were younger, I played a huge role in the everyday parenting. After setting the foundation and building relationships with them, I felt comfortable saying “No”, or enforcing consequences. It just made sense given that I was home with the kids more often than their Dad.
I had no problem yanking an ipad for the night or giving a hard no when it was needed. The kids were receptive to it too. With my husband working late hours, I took the lead on the night time routine.
But then, as we embarked on the tweenage years I felt a shift in our household. Not only did I notice that I was the only one enforcing some agreed upon rules, I noticed that one of my stepchildren in particular, wasn’t receptive to me playing this role.
In fact, there were a few uncharacteristic arguments and the vibe in our household just didn’t feel the same as it once had.
I’m a pretty intuitive person, so in the spirit of being completely honest, I’m pretty sure that the kid straight up didn’t like me.
At the beginning I took it personally. After all, I had done so much and had always been there for the kids. The way I saw it, I was a parent too!
But then, I gave my head a shake and realized that this was very normal, age appropriate behaviour. Kids test boundaries. It’s what they do.
That and we live in a Society that questions the role that a stepmom should play. He had obviously picked up on that by now.
I will also say, that as a child of divorce myself, what I was dealing with was minimal in comparison to what I had put my dad’s girlfriends through. I figured this was a well deserved dose of karma.
But karma or not, as an adult, it was my responsibility to react accordingly.
I needed to react in a way that was best for OUR family dynamic (remember every stepfamily dynamic is unique – what works for one family may not work for another).
I knew right well that trying to re-establish my role as a parental figure would be met with resistance. My husband could have all the talks he wanted about respecting me. We could take phones away and we could enforce consequences, but in my heart I knew it would be a big fat fail.
I didn’t simply want obedience. I wanted a healthy relationship based on a foundation of trust and respect. I didn’t want the kids to listen to me because they HAD to, I wanted them to listen to me because they knew I had their best interest at heart.
So, I took another approach. I made the conscious decision to take a step back in the everyday parenting.
Sure, I was there for pick up and drop off, and all the things I usually did – but when it came to the tough parenting conversations or dealing with resistance to agreed upon rules, I left that up to my husband.
I learned to bite my tongue, take a walk, and not sweat the small stuff.
As someone who likes order and control (working on it, working on it) it wasn’t easy, but it was completely worth it.
Not everyone agrees with this approach, but:
I took a step back
I gave my stepchild some space
Let them come to me
Had their Dad take care of the heavy conversations
My husband and I had parenting conversations behind the scenes, but ultimately he made the final decisions.
Did my husband do things that I didn’t agree with? Absolutely.
Did I think some things should have been dealt with differently? Yep.
But I stuck to my guns.
My focus was on having a healthy relationship and a healthy dynamic in the house. I didn’t want to force respect on them, I wanted it to be something that actually existed.
That was a few years ago.
A few weeks back, I realized that there has been a huge shift in my relationship with my stepchild.
He is coming to me when he needs things
He respects my opinion on things
He asks for my opinion on things
He is extremely polite
He jokes around, and smiles a lot
Over the past few years there had been periods of this, but not long ones.
But it has been like this for several months now.
Our relationship has changed again, this time for the better! My husband and I both wholeheartedly attribute this to my taking a step back in the parenting department.
Lately I’ve become more involved in the heavy conversations again. Not so much in a parental way, but in a mentorship way (if that makes sense). The relationship I have with these kids is pretty special.
In many (but not all) situations, a relationship with a stepparent is different than a relationship with a parent. It’s not as unconditional. Children forgive their parents far faster than they do their step-parents, and rightfully so.
Often stepmoms are resistant to taking a step back, when their relationship with their stepkids isn’t going so well.
They try and stand their ground and assert themselves as a “parent too” – but honestly, disengaging is the best thing I’ve ever done for my sanity, my relationship with my stepkids and for our family.
It’s also the best thing I’ve done for my relationship with my husband.
If this is you. If you’re struggling with your stepchildren, or aren’t on the same page as your partner about enforcing agreed upon rules, then I highly recommend you consider this approach too!
It doesn’t have to be permanent, it doesn’t have to be extreme, you don’t have to have some big family meeting to announce that you’re disengaging. Just naturally do it.
Taking a step back may end up being the best thing you’ve ever done for your stepfamily dynamic.
PS – Do you want my secret to improving your stepfamily life? You can find it here right here!
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