With blended families now accounting for the majority of U.S. family structures… there is a lot more co-parenting going on than ever before. Being a stepparent is a unique relationship full of potential joy and unexpected pitfalls. It may feel unfair that your partner is eternally tied to their ex - and they might resent your relationship with yours - but a positive working relationship with the co-parents in your life is essential to a healthy environment for the kids.
So what happens when a parent says “no”, but the stepparent says “yes”? The short answer is: “The answer is no.”
The Co-parenting Business
Rosa Garbo and her colleagues at the National Family Resiliency Center suggest divorced/de-coupled parents build a “cordial business relationship.” Think of them as the business managers — if other involved adults disagree with parenting choices, they should address it through this relationship. They get to make the top-line parenting decisions, ideally based on shared core values. Stepparents should support these decisions and this relationship.
The Stepparent Role
Anne Ranker of Ohio State University has some suggestions for thriving in role. Even if you’ve been in the position for a while, these can help bring more clarity:
- You deserve respect from all involved. You should be spoken to and with kindness and respect.
- You are respectful. You don’t badmouth your partner's ex in front of the kids, and you understand that the situation is hard for them, too.
- You are not the parent. If the mother or father is actively involved in raising the child(ren), your partner works directly with them to make the major parenting decisions. If you disagree, you must direct concerns to your partner - not by taking matters into your own hands.
- Your relationship with your partner is a priority. While there is a constant focus on the kids, your relationship must also be actively supported and nurtured.
The long and short of it is: it’s tough. You, your partner, and the co-parents involved have to literally lay the foundation for the future. There isn’t really a rulebook, but a great rule of thumb (see what we did there?) is to treat each other with respect, cut each other some slack, and - every once in a while - verbalize your appreciation for the effort of everyone involved. If you stick to those pillars, you are sure to create a loving, secure home for your blended family.