sex and relationships

Step parenting Dos and Don’ts

Helpful guide of how to be a great step parent

Tips for new parent step

How to be the best step parent you can be

Step parent 474

The arrival of a new baby should be the ultimate occasion for joy and delight to everyone involved but there are times when their arrival can be a mixed blessing for some. What if you or your partner already have children, by a previous partner? Being a stepparent is definitely not uncommon, but our lack of understanding or experience of the situation can commonly make it difficult and challenging at times. 

A new baby can feel like a whole new start, and it is – of your shared family. But if either or both of you have children their feelings and the impact this has on you, as well as them, can be quite penetrating. For you to be in a stepfamily, another family must have ended and one or both of you will have experienced the loss of a partnership along the way. 

More importantly, there could be children who have lost a parent, a family and the certain, safe knowledge that their family will always remain intact. Exploring and understanding everyone’s emotions and reactions can help you manage what is likely to be a delicate situation. 

Existing children, whether still young or teenage or even adult, may welcome the newcomer. But it is just as likely that may feel pushed aside and relegated to second best and be jealous of the baby. A baby may be the final straw for any hopes they might have had, however unreasonable, of their original family getting back together. And they will quite reasonably expect their parent’s attention and time and even their love to be devoted to the newcomer, at their cost. 

You’ll both need to recognise their feelings and understand that while you can ask for positive behaviour, their emotions are natural and need to be acknowledged and managed. They may not be able to put their anxieties into words, so could act them out in anger and tantrums, accusations and demands. Putting yourself in their shoes may enable you to begin conversations with older children by saying “I can see you are upset. Can we put this into words and see what we can do about it?”

During all the physical and emotional upheaval of a baby, you may need to ringfence time, effort and consideration for them. If for no other reason than the time spent now may save time dealing with unhappiness later. Give each child a time alone with each adult, playing games or going out doing things together. 

Consider where existing children will live or stay, how you manage birthdays and festivals well in advance so that everyone has time to plan and get some of what they want.  You’’ also want to think carefully about how you will manage contact and discussion between all the adults involved.
All families should think ahead to how the new arrival and existing children will get on. One important tip, if you haven’t done it before, is to ask everyone in the house, whether young or old, whether full time or visiting, to do their bit in the family home. Even toddlers can tidy up by putting their toys away at the end of the day. Make it a game and they will get into the habit. For older children (and adults!), a chore chart helps, with a clear understanding that everyone does their assigned routine. However, dull it may seem, doing chores makes the point that everyone is part of the household whether they are there full time or not. And to have “House Rules” – agreed guidelines for behaviour that everyone who can discusses, and everyone keeps means that you all belong. It being a house rule also means no-one can say either “I don’t have to do this in my other home!” or “You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my mum/dad!”

Suzie Hayman headshot

Bounty “Sex & Relationship” articles are written by expert Suzie Hayman. Suzie is agony aunt for Woman magazine, a Relate trained counsellor, and an accredited TripleP (Positive Parenting Programme) parenting educator.  She makes frequent appearances on TV and radio and as well as writing 31 books, Suzie writes features on parenting, relationships, sex and couples counselling, for a wide range of national magazines and newspapers

Step parenting Dos and Don’ts