Stepparenting can be much easier when the child is very young, notes Dr. Phil.

The Ten Commandments of Stepparenting

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Stepparenting can be anything except a walk in the park, but it doesn't mean your destined to endure rather than enjoy the new family arrangement either. Many factors enter into the success or failure of a blended family -- such as the age of the child and how cooperative or uncooperative an ex-spouse chooses to be. As a stepmother of a toddler or preschooler, you have their young age on your side, as older children are typically more critical and judgmental of a new stepparent. Following a few golden rules can make your life a lot easier, and may help avoid unnecessary stress.

Have Plenty of Patience

A stepmother often walks into a blended family situation hoping to make it work right off the bat. Don't try too hard, too soon to prove yourself as a viable addition to the family. Moving too quickly may only push away your new stepchild.

Don't Overreact to Challenges

Don't take it personally if your stepchild criticizes you, like saying, "My mommy's chicken tastes better" or "My mommy is nicer." Such jabs at your ego will become less common as the months pass. Take heart in knowing that you if are making a genuine effort to get along with your stepchild, positive feelings should gradually outweigh the negative ones

Be Realistic About Your Role

If your stepchild happens to be a girl, it's wise to think of yourself as an ally or a cheerleader rather than a second mother. Otherwise a young child may fear you are trying to replace her "real" mommy. Respect the special bond she has with her biological mother. If your stepdaughter boldly reminds you that "You're not my mommy," gently tell her that you understand she loves her mommy very much and that you only hope to become a special friend who she can count on.

Seek Out Common Interests

Finding common interests with you stepchild isn’t particularly hard to do when you are dealing with a toddler or preschooler. Ask your stepchild to help you bake cookies or take a walk to the playground. Sit alongside your stepson when he is playing with his toy truck. A little boy is bound to perk up when you ask, "Why are the tires so big? or "Why is the steering wheel slanted?

Empathize With Your Stepchild's Feelings

Realize that your stepchild may be a little "gun shy" about connecting with you, out of fear that you will eventually leave. Your stepchild may have abandonment issues if her biological mother died or left the family. If she responds with a resounding "No!" when you offer to take her to the park, you can say, "That's okay, maybe next time."

Know Your Place When it Comes to Discipline

Taking matters into your own hands and disciplining your stepchild is often asking for trouble. Your stepchild may refuse to listen and your spouse may feel resentful. It's best to refrain from directly dishing out discipline but it's essential to support and respect your spouse's decision when it comes to punishing his biological child.

Comply With the Status Quo -- For Now

Don't ruffle any feathers in the early days of stepparenting. As you as your spouse settle into the routine you may take issue with his parenting style. Keep your mouth shut, and remember that your way or raising a child isn't the only "right" way. Speak to your spouse in private if there are child-rearing areas you feel that the family could truly benefit from a little tweaking.

Don't Play Favorites

If you are bringing your own toddler or preschooler into your new step family or if you're a stepmother in a "yours, mine and ours" situation take great pains not to show favoritism toward your biological child or children. It can be a tough row to hoe since at least in the beginning it's only natural to have stronger feelings for your own flesh and blood.

Take Care of Yourself

The addition of a stepchild in your life can be stressful. It's more important than ever to take care of your mental, physical and emotional health, notes Eat a nutritious diet, try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day and consider getting a message, taking a yoga class or meditating.

Work on Marital Problems

More than one third of children who enter into a step family later endure a breakup of that family, according to a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Seek out marriage therapy or perhaps a join a step-family support group if you and your spouse are having problems.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

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