How do you become a step-parent? Slowly!

Children who are used to having their mother or father all to themselves don’t take too kindly to someone else sharing their parent’s love and time. The situation becomes much worse if the adult tries to tell the children what to do.

Anyone who gets involved with a person who has children must realize that he or she is taking on a family, not just an individual. We all know that trying to change our partner doesn’t work; we must accept them as they are. It’s the same with a family. Get to know the family as an observer and friend. It is by far the best if you do this before you move in or get married.

During the first year you might find that you have lots of responsibility with very little authority. As frustrating as it might be, this is the way it should be. You can enforce basic rules when alone with the children, but you take a step back when the parent is around. If something in the family irritates you, discuss it with your partner out of the children’s hearing. But know that the parent is the authority, not you.

If you don’t have any children of your own, you may not understand the limitations of your step-children. It can be shocking to find out how children behave but your task is to learn about them, not change them. As time goes by, if you respect the way the family functions, and accept your step-children for who they are, they will come to respect you. They didn’t ask you to come into their lives but they may come to like or even love you if you take your time.

If you are already a parent, know that you won’t feel the same about your step-children as you do about your own. This is natural. Relationships take time to build. Give all the children time to get used to one another, don’t force it. Reassure them that their things or their space is still theirs, even if it is half a room. Finally, remember that your kids still need to have you to themselves. Time together will give you a chance to connect and hear how they are doing.

For you and your partner, chances are you worked hard to get to this place. Celebrate, be gentle and lovingly turn toward one another often.

LIFE Seminars has two books available, Sidestepping the Power Struggle and The Parent Child Connection. See lifeseminars.com.