OK, where were we on this topic of the role your spouse or partner plays in your stepfamily? 

Last Wednesday, I described what, after lots of reading and experience, I believe is the most helpful (productive, healthy) role for the parent left in the home in which you, the stepparent, are also living.  We summarized that the parent should: 

  • Be the central hub of the stepfamily.
  • Be the main disciplinarian in the stepfamily.
  • Be physically available (present).
  • Be emotionally available (interested). 

Of course, this is an ideal role; something to strive for. 

A more realistic discussion revolves around what could be blocking the parent from “living up” to this role, and should you do anything about it? 

Both of the role blockers I’m going to mention I feel I have down cold because I’ve lived through this situation.  The first is personality style, and the second is grief.  I’m going to ask you to bear with me – in order to keep these posts blog-length, I’ll address personality today, and grief next Wednesday (thus, a three-part series). 

My husband’s first wife died when their kids were six and four.  He and I got married when the children were eight and six, so there was still a lot of room for growth in the family.  My husband wasn’t then, and still doesn’t consider himself to be now, the parenting expert.  He also happens to prefer harmony to confrontation, and laissez faire to boundaries.  It’s just his style. 

I like the harmony part, but I definitely prefer structure and closure to open-ended evolution.  (As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that we are shaping out like the couple in Yours, Mine, and Ours, but in reverse!  Fortunately neither of us acts to those extremes).  And, I’m a very firm believer that kids not only need but also want boundaries.  (Side note:  Check out this useful book on boundaries). 

So instead of stepping aside for a while, which would have been the healthiest thing for the stepparent to do, I took the helm I felt was not being manned (meaning, in the way I would do it).  And, to be honest with you, I didn’t really back off until the kids’ teen years.  

With regard to personality style, other stepparents might voice complaints that their spouses are too passive, too quiet, too busy, too distant, too stubborn (etc.) to meet the above-mentioned criteria. 

Here’s the lesson:  When your spouse’s personality style isn’t conducive to striving for the steadfast parent’s role, I think you have a few choices.  First is to see how it goes without you running interference.  Give your spouse a chance.  There isn’t only one way to raise children.  

Most importantly – and trust me on this – the kids really, really want their own parent to take the lead.  The stepparent does not get hero or heroine points from the kids for stepping in.  In fact, a stepparent’s commandeering approach can alter possible good that can grow out of a stepparent/stepchild relationship. 

If there are significant kid-related consequences occurring and the parent’s style isn’t covering the bases or improving matters around the home, then another good choice is to either coach your spouse from the sidelines (in private, please, not in front of the kids) or help your spouse find coaching from a mentor or counseling professional.  

Notice that I’m still not offering taking the lead as an option.  For the sake of the kids, the ongoing goal is to let the parent be primary.  Over time (do you notice I say that phrase a lot?) you can merge into the limelight to offer your strengths.  Still, be willing to step back when it’s clear that the kids want mom or dad. 

Do you agree?  Disagree?  I’d love to hear from you.  Post a comment below or e-mail me at info@dianefromme.com

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and (formerly pushy) stepparent located in Northern Colorado.  For more information on her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, go to www.dianefromme.com


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