Why do some kids warm to their stepparents while others spend years fighting them? A parenting coach shares the story of her own parents’ painful divorce — and the smart steps her new step dad took to earn her love and respect.
It’s funny, it never really occurs to me that I’m a stepchild, but I am. I think it’s because my stepdad has become such a huge part of my life that I don’t categorize myself as a stepchild, I am just his daughter.
My Parent’s Divorce
My world fell apart at age 15. I was like every other 15-year-old: self-focused, obsessed with peers, snarky, entitled— normal right? I never saw it coming. Never.
Then one day my sister and I were told my parents were getting a divorce. W-h-a-t!?
It hit us hard because we thought it was coming out of the blue. In my mind there had been no clues, no signs they were headed for a divorce. Seriously, none! I began thinking about how this could happen and realized that they never fought, talked, dated, hugged or kissed. But since I was so busy being 15, I missed all those signs.
A couple of years later mom announced she’d met a new person and was getting remarried.
I refused to allow my stepdad in. I extended him no rights at all. If he tried to get involved in my life in any way I would shun him or throw a full-blown teenage meltdown his way. What a way for the poor man to enter our family. I, of course, have since apologized.
9 Things My Stepdad Did Right
Having lived through, and accepted, a stepparent into my life, I wanted share some of the things my stepdad did that I think made a huge difference for us.
1. He never took my blame, anger, or teenage dislike of him personally. He knew I was conflicted. He knew I was loyal to my father and didn’t know how to work that out in my mind, at least not yet.
2. He never tried to take my father’s place. He knew that in order to be accepted he would need to create a different relationship between us.
3. He was smart enough to leave the big decisions up to my parents. He didn’t get involved, except when asked. Doing that said to me, “I honor that your parents are your parents and in charge of the ‘big’ decisions.” I really respected him for that.
4. He understood that respect is something that’s earned, not a right. He took that seriously. He gained my respect by treating me with respect.
5. He really listened to me and honored the emotional wounds that had been created by the divorce. He didn’t insist I push them aside and “get over it.”
6. He didn’t try to make any huge rules in the beginning of our relationship to help him establish his position as “The Stepdad.” He waited for the appropriate time and my mom’s support before doing so.
7. My mom and stepdad worked together to present a unified front to us. There was no negotiating about the rules, and no way to cause them to fight about a subject to get the focus off of me. That made me feel safe.
8. My stepdad always made it clear just how much he loved and respected my mom. As I watched simple gestures — a hug here and there, opening doors for her, bringing her flowers, I began to realize that he made Mom happier than we’d ever seen her, and again my love and respect for him increased.
9. Teenagers are hard to deal with. I would try to make my mom feel guilty so I could blame her for the pain I felt inside. She and my stepdad always honored my feelings, but wouldn’t accept the blame or guilt for loving each other. They taught me that my feelings were okay and they would not cave into my demands out of guilt.
I wanted you to hear from a stepchild what it feels like to have a new parent in your life. I hope this has helped in some small way.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.