15 Things Every Stepparent Should Know

You know what’s hard? Being a parent. You know what’s harder? Being a stepparent. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In my six years as a stepdad, I’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs as my stepdaughter and I do our best to negotiate what has to be one of the most complicated dynamics in the history of ever.

That said, I’ll never have the right words to express how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to be a stepdad. For like most anything else that’s difficult, the rewards are worth the price you have to pay to get them. There’s such texture to gain from the grind, much beauty to see as you climb, for the love you have to carefully consider, delicately court and ultimately earn might be the most precious of them all.

I’m no stranger to writing about the stepparent experience, three times here on Babble, once on Yahoo and another time on TLC. And though I’m by no means proclaiming victory, I am proud to say that as it stands right now, I have a wonderful relationship with my stepdaughter — not without its moments, mind you, but what parent-child relationship is? I’m also proud to report that I’ve learned many things along the way. Here are 15 of them.

  • It’s a package deal 1 of 15
    It's a package deal
    If you're dating a single parent, it's imperative you understand something right away. It's a package deal. So if you marry that single parent, you've also made a lifelong commitment to his or her child. Honor that commitment, for it's a big one. Are you up for it?
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  • No one likes to be left out 2 of 15
    No one likes to be left out
    One way to show that you are is by including your stepchild from word go. No. This doesn't mean that the stepchild should ever deter you and your spouse from enjoying the intimacy all healthy relationships need. But, yes, it does mean that you should include that child whenever you can. Which is why I asked my stepdaughter to help me propose to her mom. I wanted her to know she included in this deal, too.
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  • Love them like they’re your own 3 of 15
    Love them like they're your own
    I've always loved my stepdaughter as if she were my very own. When Caroline was pregnant with the triplets, many of my friends would say something along the lines of "Just wait till you see what it feels like to have your own child." My response? "I already have a child." And I meant it. If you were to ever prick my stepdaughter's finger, I'd swear the ensuing bubble of blood contained my DNA. Because she has to be mine. Or I'd not love her the way I do.
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  • Semantics 4 of 15
    Which is why, whenever I refer to her in conversation, I simply do so as "my daughter." If someone ever does the math and gets confused / needs clarification, I'm happy to explain that she's actually my stepdaughter. But unless that happens, why bother?
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  • Think addition 5 of 15
    Think addition
    But just because I call her "my daughter" doesn't mean that I'm out to replace her dad. I'm not. Because as one of the people who's chartered with raising this special little girl, I'd be a fool to do anything of the sort. First off, he's a great guy. But second, everyone knows that the odds of a little girl growing up to be a healthy, well-adjusted woman are the greatest when her biological dad is in the picture. So why would I ever want to get in the way of that? Exactly. I wouldn't.
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  • Respect 6 of 15
    But just because I'm not out to replace her father doesn't mean that I can just sit back and play buddy-buddy. Which is one mistake I see stepparents make a lot. Parenthood isn't all about high-fives and butt slaps. There's more to it than that. So seek respect. The affinity will follow.
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  • The high road 7 of 15
    The high road
    And speaking of respect, it's always important that you and your spouse respect your spouse's ex. Look. I get it. It's complicated, or they wouldn't be divorced. But that doesn't change the fact that they had a child together -- one whom you love like your very own. Certainly that's something worthy of respect, no?
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  • The power of words 8 of 15
    The power of words
    Which means that you and your spouse must try your very hardest to never say anything derogatory about your stepchild's biological parent. Again, we're lucky. My wife's ex is a good guy, so we're all set there. And I get it that not everyone has our setup. Still, this is an important one to follow. Because when you rip a little child's parent, you're ripping up half of who that little child is. Can you imagine how awful that must feel?
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  • Have children 9 of 15
    Have children
    So, I'm not saying you go all Duggard like we did, but, still, one of the greatest common denominators my stepdaughter and I have are her siblings. After all, now we have blood relatives in common. And what's more, she loves them to bits. And that's a very cool thing.
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  • Bring something to the table 10 of 15
    Bring something to the table
    That's right. Bring something to the table, like a regular activity, or maybe an interest or hobby that you think your stepchild might like. Because such things help you find common ground, and it's on that common ground where some of your best parenting can and will take place. Which is one of the reasons why I introduced my daughter to camping. She loves it, especially the cooking-over-an-open-fire bit as pictured above. We take at least one trip together every year, so it's become a bit of a tradition. And it's all ours.
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  • Be prepared to be the scapegoat 11 of 15
    Be prepared to be the scapegoat
    The first time I ever took her camping, she had an absolute blast. She went on and on about it. Until she turned on a dime and started acting out against me in ways my wife and I had never seen. And we finally figured out why: she loved everything about the woods, including the man who kept her safe in them. And if she loved me, what did that mean for her dad? The best way to make sure he still had his spot was for her to kick me out of mine.
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  • Complexity 12 of 15
    That was one of the most complex set of feelings I've ever dealt with. And if I found the situation impossibly complicated as a grown man, just think how hard it must have been for a six-year-old girl.
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  • Pick your battles 13 of 15
    Pick your battles
    Which is exactly why I always try to pick my battles. That doesn't mean that I let her walk all over me. But that does mean that if there's ever a time when I don't think I'm getting the respect I deserve, I consider, first, our unique circumstance before jumping down her throat.
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  • Love is patient 14 of 15
    Love is patient
    Because one of the most important of the 15 lessons I've learned is that love is patient. It'll wait however long it needs to before getting anything in return. Love always sees the bigger picture: it's not a race, it's a lifetime.
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  • Begin with the end in mind 15 of 15
    Begin with the end in mind
    By no means do I consider myself a Stephen R. Covey disciple, but I do utilize one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People from time to time. And that habit is to "begin with the end in mind." So when I began in my capacity of stepdad, I thought long and hard about what I wanted the "end" to look like, with "end" being defined as my stepdaughter's high school graduation. I hope that as she walks across the stage to get her diploma, she looks out to the crowd and sees her mom and dad and is filled with love by that sight. And I hope she sees me, too, and when she does, I hope she thinks He never had to love me so much. But he always did anyway. Because as parents, isn't that all we really want? For our children to feel loved by us? And if my stepdaughter feels that love, I don't see how I could possibly ask for anything more.
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Article Posted 5 years Ago

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