Step-parenting success depends on marital relationship

Q: My girlfriend and I bought a house together last week. The plan is to renovate it when we can find the time over the summer and to move into it later in the fall. Hopefully harvest will be finished earlier than it was last year and we will have time to settle into our place before Christmas.

This is all very exciting for me. But I have to admit that I am also a little apprehensive. My girlfriend has three young children. The children’s father, her former husband, died a number of years ago. He had a brain tumour. Two of the children were still in diapers when he died and the oldest was not yet in school. None of the children remember much about their dad, but I am still nervous about becoming their stepfather. I have no children of my own, and never have had. I did not even have younger brothers and sisters when I was a kid growing up.

The truth is, I know very little about children, let alone how to parent them. If you have a couple of tips on how to deal with them that would be just great. Thank you.

A: I do not think that step-parenting is built on any great secrets but let’s go through some stuff just to help you get orientated to your new role.

That is quite a change, going from boyfriend/lover to husband/father. You might find yourself spinning around every now and then, unsure what to do or with whom to do it. The key to this is to always remember that success in your new roles with your new family in a new house is the relationship that you and your girlfriend develop with each other. Both of you are into this thing in search of personal fulfillment.

The more that her time with you gives her opportunities for personal fulfillment, the better are the odds that she will have satisfying relationships with each of her children, and the better are those parent/child relationships, the better are the odds that you will be accepted by the kids.

Let’s face it. The honey and roses are not always going to be there for you and your girlfriend. You will have moments of stress with each other. Those are not avoidable, and you should not try to avoid them. But neither should you be dictated by them. When the journey through your relationship gets a little rough the two of you need to take a time out and reconnect with each other. That is the foundation of your home and it is the door to your relationship with her children.

Having said that, it is important to remember that you are not the children’s natural father. That is not to say that you cannot be emotionally tied into each of the children. Of course you can. You can discipline them, you can comfort them, you can love them, have fun with them and be terribly proud of whatever it is that they build out in the back yard. You can do all of it.

It is just that you are not “Dad,” even if that is what they call you, and when life gets a little stressed and you disagree with each other, your wife, the kids’ mom, always has the final say. That is when you reach down for your deepest moment of pride in the woman with whom you chose to spend your time and you go with her decisions and you support what she is trying to achieve.

I think that it is great that you have chosen to build something wonderful with your girlfriend. I suspect that you will stumble on the path, that you will feel awkward and clumsy more than you care to admit, and that you too will have your share of disappointments.

But it is worth it and somewhere, a long ways away, some little person is going to walk through the door to your house and say “Hi Grandpa” and you will know and understand then that about which I am talking.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com

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