Parenthood is a demanding journey. If someone insists otherwise, they’re likely not telling the whole truth. While there are undoubtedly joyful moments, the reality is that being a parent is a round-the-clock, 365-days-a-year commitment, and it’s undeniably challenging. Nevertheless, I’d like to propose what might be a somewhat contentious viewpoint: stepparenting can be even more challenging. Allow me to explain.
Biological Parenting vs. Stepparenting
The role of a biological parent is relatively clear-cut. Yes, it varies somewhat from family to family, influenced by personalities, predispositions, and schedules, but parents understand that they bear complete responsibility for their children’s health, well-being, and education. They’re the ones to wipe away tears, schedule doctor’s appointments, buy shoes, and teach their children essential life lessons. Parents are ready to do anything and everything for their kids. In contrast, the role of a stepparent is considerably less defined and often varies significantly from one family to another.
Is it the responsibility of a stepparent to console their stepchildren when they get hurt or upset? And if it isn’t their duty to wipe away tears, is it acceptable if they do so? Can a stepmom make a doctor’s appointment for her stepchildren? What if the biological dad asks her to schedule it? Can she attend the appointment, and if so, what level of decision-making authority does she possess?
For a divorced parent, their role doesn’t change much. The parenting plan or settlement agreement may outline a certain division of responsibilities or expectations for communication, but they are still responsible for caring for their children. For a stepparent, things are often more complicated. Many stepparents walk a fine line between fostering and preserving a relationship with their stepchildren while being cautious not to step on anyone’s toes or violate the parenting plan or settlement agreement.
Navigating Co-Parenting After a Divorce
However, here’s the catch. In today’s world of blended families and shared parenting, many of the “parental responsibilities” or “parental decisions” may fall to the stepparent. If the biological mom isn’t present, it’s often the stepdad who’s there to bandage scraped knees or mend a broken teenage heart. Sometimes, even when the parent is at home, the child may turn to the stepparent for advice. In blended families, a parent might find themselves parenting their biological children and their stepchildren simultaneously. Do different children have different sets of rules?
There are no set rules or laws governing the role of stepparents or how to integrate two families into one. Navigating co-parenting after a divorce is already challenging, and introducing new adults into the mix can make it even more complex. One of the most effective tools for addressing these issues is family mediation. Bringing together both sets of parents—Mom and Stepdad, Dad and Stepmom—to engage in open discussions and find answers to these questions can be extremely effective. It’s unique for every family, but without communication and role definition, the journey becomes rife with conflicts and negative emotions.
Think of it this way: Imagine owning a company and hiring a new employee with the vague job title of “worker.” There’s no job description, just an ambiguous title open to interpretation. How can you expect this person to meet, let alone exceed, your expectations if they don’t know what those expectations are? Now add a business partner with their own needs and concerns into the mix. Without clear and precise communication, that new employee would, at best, struggle, and, at worst, fail.
Healthy Stepparenting Expectations
Divorce ends a marriage, not a family. Mom and Dad will always be Mom and Dad to their children, no matter what. When a family expands through remarriage, it’s crucial to engage in conversations that define everyone’s new roles. These talks may be fraught with challenges, which is why we have our “big table” here in our office! Help alleviate potential stress and conflict regarding stepparenting in your new marriage and ensure that your children to remain a top priority by allowing us to help you navigate these difficult discussions.