The principles of being a step-parent or a parent in a blended family are totally different from a normal family. I have been a step-son and a step-Dad. Whilst there can be love and affinity, a step-parent should not try to be a replacement for a biological parent. Rarely will this turn out well.
Starting a new relationship after a divorce or separation is desirable for many men and women. Not surprisingly with children and ex-partners though it is rarely easy to make work. It is possible though to create an effective blended family – what you must not do is presume it is going to be easy.
Tracy Poizner specialises in working with Step-Moms and Dads in new relationships. I had an amazing level of response from our first podcast cast together where we discussed Dads and how to talk effectively with your ex-wife and children. There simply wasn’t time to do the subject of making blended families work so we decided to do this follow-up.
You Are The Primary Parent
What Dad says goes. At least in your house. What your children do when they are with their mother is not really anything you can control or even worry about. Sure if there are well-being and safety concerns but otherwise in most situations, you need to not sweat the small stuff.
Back in your own home, the rules of the primary parent are what needs to come first. The step-parent is there to honour these but not get into conflict around them. Sure that can be tricky to navigate. In a well-working parent + step-parent set up though this will all be discussed. Yes, between you and your partner but also with the children. Let them know how it is all going to work and what is expected of them.
You do not want your children taking advantage of the step-parent or abusing their role in the family, neither though do you want to place the step-parent in the position of policing your rules. Ultimately this will lead to conflict and resentment – between everyone.
Important to note that the step-mom may also have her own children coming into your home. The reverse should work for her. She is the primary parent and you are there to support her, not be a replacement Daddy.
Don’t Expect A New Partner To Be Mum
A common mistake made by Dads entering into a new relationship is to expect their new partner to be a replacement Mum. This is basically the same point as above but from a different perspective.
Some men will even seek out a new replacement with this goal in mind. It is a big mistake and will unlikely lead to a happy relationship between you and your new partner, or your children and her. Likely it will also rub your ex-partner up the wrong way.
Sure to someone who is a natural homemaker they will want their home to be nice, meals will be cooked and maybe even a bedtime story or two will be enjoyed. It is vital though that just because you have a new woman in your life that you do not consider her an instant replacement for all the tasks that your children’s Mother took on.
You are still a single-parent – or better put, a co-parent. It is down to you to define and live that role. It is very different from the role of Dad in a relationship. It is way more hands-on. There are many many more responsibilities. You have to stay present to your guidelines, rules, values and expectations, and be consistent with them. You can’t just go to work and expect step-Mom to take care of it all.
As Tracy and I summarise towards the end, a successful step-parent will take on more of the form of a loving Aunt or supportive older sister. Respect this and enjoy it.
Communication With Your Ex-Partner
Not every divorced Dad is on speaking terms with his ex. It doesn’t take much to argue that it is better for your children that you are. Of course, being out of a hostile or abusive family set up is better for all but in most situations, your children still love you both. This should be nurtured and treated with respect. You may not like each other that much but put the children first. When you are creating a step-parent situation with a new partner and to whatever degree that leads to a blended family, then share this with your ex. Reasure her that you are not seeking to replace them as the children’s mother. Be gracious in how you manage the situation and there will be more chance that is reciprocated back to you.
Be the difference you want to see.
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