Last year brought some major life changes my way, the most impactful of which was my wedding. I not only gained a lifetime partner, but also became a parent.
My stepdaughter is fiercely independent, smart, fiery and the reason I wake up every morning wanting to be my best self. Becoming a stepparent is one of the most rewarding yet challenging things that I’ve ever done, and my first year came with so many ups and downs.
I have much to learn, but I feel better equipped to be a positive influence in my stepdaughter’s life in 2018. Here are some of the biggest hacks I learned in my first year as a step parent that I plan to carry over into the new year. I hope you find some of them useful!
Leave jealousy at the altar. As a stepparent, you might have pivotal life experiences that are firsts to you but not your spouse. It’s easy to build resentment when you think outside of your own relationship. Occasionally the jealousy of my partner’s ex got me down, but it’s important to remember that it didn’t work out between them for a reason. These “firsts” are still firsts for you and your spouse, and it’s the two of you in it together for the rest of your lives, which is as sacred and special as it gets.
What’s also special is the relationship your spouse has with their co-parent, if for no other reason than because that person is responsible for the well-being of your stepchild when they’re not in your home.
Co-parenting means that your spouse’s ex and your spouse need healthy communication. My wife and her ex work hard at positive, healthy communication, and I’d rather spend their discussion time practicing some self-care than monitoring a conversation I feel uncomfortable with. Just remember, boundaries are a good thing, and trust is everything.
Prioritize your marriage. Speaking of self-care, your relationship with your spouse requires just as much attention as the one with your stepchildren. One of the mistakes I made early on as a stepparent was sacrificing myself and my relationship with my wife to make my stepdaughter’s time with us perfect. I’d save all of the grunt work and errands for when it was just the two of us. I packed my alone time with my wife with all of those annoying chores so that we could spend all of our time with my stepdaughter focusing on her.
I quickly realized this method was draining us as a couple. We didn’t get to spend quality time to foster our own relationship, and our energy supplies were depleted by the time we got our girl. I finally learned that a happy partner really does equal a happy parent. My stepdaughter would much rather have to run to the grocery with two rejuvenated, enthusiastic parents than play "Candyland" with a mommy who is cranky and tired. Balance out the chores and take some time together on the off days to rest, encourage, and bond with your spouse. You’ll all be happier for it.
Foster bonding time. When it comes to bonding with both your spouse and you stepchildren, nothing beats that one-on-one time. In the beginning of our relationship, my wife felt an obligation to do all of the parenting of my stepdaughter, from teeth brushing to troubleshooting. I fostered that dynamic by automatically taking a backseat to being a parent, always letting her take the lead.
We quickly realized that in order for me to bond with my stepdaughter, I had to be just as active of a parent as my wife was. It’s tough to cement a bond as a parent to a child when you’re only acting like one when the “real” parent is busy or away. Foster one-on-one time for both your spouse and their child and yourself and your stepchild.
Switch off doing bath time and story time. Take turns with each of your playing a board game with your kids. Be confident in yourself as a parent! It makes a world of difference when a child feels safe and protected on an equal level by every parent they have.
Be patient with transitions. Safety and protection are those same two needs that need to flow seamlessly into the transition from one house to the other. Even when a blended family has a healthy co-parenting relationship, the switch to a new house and new people telling you what to do is always an adjustment.
Practice patience during the days your stepchild comes back to your home. Give your spouse and child some extra time together to re-bond during those first few hours. Be flexible with emotional outbursts as your child prepares to transition back. Most importantly, set your ego aside during these days and focus on creative a safe space.
Regardless of how you finished out the year, focus on a fresh parenting start in 2018. Jot these hacks along with your own on a sheet of paper to be mindful of them every day. Good luck, and make this the best year ever for you and your family!