Co-parenting as a step parent is fraught with challenges
Just as there is no instruction manual with being a parent, there certainly isn't one for the more frequent number of step-parents (I'm not including he hundreds of self-help books). Whether you want to be one or not, the decision isn't often one that you may choose. An enjoyable evening with a man or woman that has children, may turn into a living arrangement that both grown-ups may be hopeful about, but have to way of knowing will work out or not.
Parents of biological children fight over how to raise their kids. Some parents are more involved than others. On rare, and I mean rare occasions, both parents may have the same upbringing and philosophies and a united front with their children and agreement on how to handle their children brings not only peace to their household as far as their kids upbringing, but to their own relationship as well. Reality reflects a completely different set of circumstances when it comes to step children. The custodial parent being the bread-winner, protector and all things important to the children, is rarely if ever going to relinquish any of the roles they've established over time to the newcomer. In cases where a dominant parent figure does come into the household, conflict often arises with the objections of the children and if they are tweens or older, you can bet there will be door slamming, name calling and far worse.
How can new parental figures transition into their roles as step-parents?
So how are new parental figures supposed to cope with the new role that they may have fallen into after falling in love with the mother or father of one, two, three or God forbid more adorable, angelic children? Many people and family therapists as professionals will simply say, "don't try to parent the step-children". Be there for them when they are in need of counseling. Be a role model. Show them that you are a trusted adult, able and ready to assist them when they are in need. Others will say, ignore the tempestuous teenage years as well as being there for them, but don't try to parent them as the wrath of their natural parent may come bearing down on you if your parenting styles aren't similar and certainly if they are diametrically opposed.
I often discuss romance, passion and intimacy when writing my articles and I know how important these aspects are to any relationship. However, I can tell you that they will all suffer if you are involved in a relationship where your parenting styles don't match-up. You can just throw your relationship out the door if one child or another tells there mother on you. Objects to anything you may ask them to do, no matter how simple the task. To be sure, the added pressure is on the natural mother and father as well, since the step-parent easiest course of action is to defer to the natural parent on any item, as simple as washing the dishes, picking-up their clothes, doing their homework or not staying out to late. Let's not even get into difficult children who abuse drugs, alcohol, sex, get into fights are are special needs children.
For every happy story there are a thousand real tales of turmoil
We should keep our ears open for the often promoted stories of happily merged families where there are no dueling philosophies on how to parent. Where the children are easy-going and receptive to new ideas and new people. There are just as many made for TV shows and media pieces of step-parents that are monsters, leaving children of merged families beaten, raped or dead. So we have to concede that there are extreme cases on each side of the spectrum but that leaves little comfort to those of us who struggle with our the love of our lives as we negotiate the tumultuous relationships with the little people that have been thrust into our lives.
There are no manuals and plenty of options, but ultimately a great deal of patience is in order to survive these relationships. We have to assess the kind of people we are. Whether we are open to being a silent partner with someone we love, deferring to the other adult in the relationship no matter how much we have to bite our tongue. Sometimes, we may not be able to hold our thoughts in and we may just blurt something out that is unacceptable or an affront to our partner and to the children we share a home with. Then the fireworks start. We may not have meant any harm. In fact, we may have intended for the child to get some solid advice or simply to extract ourselves from the situation, but good luck trying to explain that to your partner when all she/he may have heard was a torrent of abuse, yelling at their children or otherwise.
Can you hold your tongue?
If you have trouble with the concept of modern parenting (letting children express themselves, formulate their own decisions, prattling on and on about whatever, giving them a wide birth to do what they want only saying "no" when it is an absolute necessity or matter of security) then being a step-parent may not be for you. Love is a powerful bond, but it truly isn't the solution to every problem. If a parent is willing to abdicate their roles toward their children to you as a step-parent, then you should reassess these people in totality as well. These comments are certainly personal opinions that may be shared by many others, but ultimately you have to be comfortable with the likelihood that you will not be directing the household, no matter what. That doesn't mean you should be silent, or excuse yourself whenever difficult decisions come up. Unfortunately, it will require you to second guess what you are going to say before you open up your mouth. Especially if you are outspoken and opinionated like this author!
We all have to have the ability to step-back and review the process
If you are able to step back and recognize that the children in question are basically good humans that do well in school, aren't overly demanding and keep their distance from making you uncomfortable, then you are in luck. For those more challenging children, you must enlist the assistance of your partner, raising issues that are of concern to you. If your partner pooh-pooh's them and dismisses your comments as irrelevant, then you may not have done your homework before coming into the household and you do have the right to be happy.
You may also see a complete change in attitude toward you when moving into the house with your partners children. If you see that, extricate yourself as soon as you are brushed-off, get involved in bizarre altercations or otherwise feel uncomfortable. It isn't worth many years of struggling after you many have already gone through a divorce or other break-up, or haven't even been in a relationship before. The last situation can be the most traumatic, shaking a person to the core of relationship beliefs and making falling in love difficult again, despite getting involved in one of the most difficult relationship circumstances in our first attempt at marriage or a long-term loving, mutually supportive union. Emphasis here on mutually supportive.
For some, the option of being alone is more traumatic
Relationships require effort to work. They require communication and common-interest and without that, they are simply like sharing a room with someone and the desire to truly support each other won't be there. Assuming all of these factors are in place, then the relationship may have a good foundation to consider adding the volatile pieces of other people into the mix. If the desire to be together stems from not wanting to be alone, then most relationship experts will tell you not to get involved with a person who has children. You will need to consider what it is about being with someone, anyone is so important to your personality.
As you can see, there are many moving parts to any relationship and when we add kids that aren't yours, well, it just gets really complicated. No matter how much you may love that other person, the older kids may just make it too difficult. If they are younger, then your ability to be a parent as well as your partners ability to accept you as one come into question. It doesn't suggest that you need to end the relationship. In fact there are increasing numbers of people who don't share the same house, but do remain together. The numerous forms of modern relationships that are blossoming today suggests that you can find some way that is acceptable to you and your partner if you're not ready, willing or able to become a full time step-parent. So choose wisely and understand that your happiness doesn't depend on someone else, it depends on you!