You've met, romanced, and chosen each other, but no-one consulted the kids!
You and your new partner are sweet. There's just one catch: you haven't chosen your partner's kids, and they surely haven't chosen you.
Negotiating a relationship that works with someone else's kids can be a taxing business. There's no one-size-fits-all guide for how a step-family should operate. Agreeing on how to act with each other is a good start. Developing workable, comfortable arrangements is more important than fitting the Brady Bunch mould.
What is the relationship between you and the kids? From Snow White onwards the 'step-parent' role gets bad press. It's often awkward acting as if you were someone's real parent. So you tone it down. It's hard to get excited about being a pale echo of the real thing. So you want to beef it up again. Where do you find a balance?
Now is when you need to get inventive. Rather than trying to imitate a birth parent you need to figure out a role that you, your partner and the kids can all live with. Probably it will have more to do with adult responsibility than with authority. It may have lots of different elements. Friend, coach, big sister, uncle, teacher, companion, sounding board, learner: these are just some possibilities.
Someone else's kids are unlikely to grant you the authority over them they see as belonging to their parents. That doesn't mean they can't accept negotiated house rules that grant each of you some rights and responsibilities as members of a shared household.
Questions that might help
These questions might help you identify the roles to take up with your partner's kids. You might use them to start discussions with both your partner and the kids.
Which adults did you like?
When you were a kid, who were the adults you liked to be around? What did they add to your life? What did you enjoy about their company? What did you value in their attitude to you?
What kind of adult company would you have liked to have as a kid? Did you appreciate different adult styles at different ages?
What might you offer the kids?
What qualities do you have that the kids enjoy? What qualities might they come to appreciate over time? What qualities would your partner add to this list?
What would each of the kids say you do that they don't like? What will they think of those things when they are adults?
What kind of activities could you share with each of the kids? What do they already do? What might they like to do if someone was available to help, support and encourage them?
What do the kids offer you?
What might the kids have to teach you? What would you like to learn from them?
What is this like for the kids?
What do the kids want you to understand about how they feel about each of their parents? What's different about how they feel about you? How does that affect the different kinds of relationship they
want to have with their parents and with you?
What might the kids fear they would lose or compromise if they had a warm or friendly relationship with you?
How much choice have the kids had in the shape of their parents' relationship with each other? How much choice have they had about your participation in their lives? Would they appreciate having more choice in how the relationship between you and them develops?
What's in this for the kids?
What do you want to ask the kids to contribute to the relationship? Are you asking them for things they feel able to offer? What can they freely offer that you can live with happily?
What would the kids like from you?
What sort of relationship would the kids like to have with you now? What would they accept? Is it the same for all of them? What don't they want included in the relationship? Do they imagine that their
relationship with you might change over time?
You might find that revisiting some of these questions is useful as the kids get older and their ideas and expectations change. Keeping the conversation going between you helps keep your relationship flexible.
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