1. Research tells us that, for many children, becoming a stepfamily is harder and takes more time, than divorce.
- Stepfamilies are generally easier for children eight and under, and for boys.
- They are harder for girls (including, in my experience, for adult daughters of older recoupling dads). They are especially hard for young teen girls.
2. Stepparents everywhere seem to want more limits and boundaries with their stepchildren.
- Parents everywhere seem to want more loving and understanding for their children.
3. Hands down, “authoriTATIVE parenting” is best for children on every measure imaginable, including bringing children through difficult transitions like divorce and becoming a stepfamily.
- Authoritative parenting is both loving and firm:
- Loving: Authoritative parents are responsive, warm, and empathic.
- Firm: Authoritative parents calmly set moderately firm limits and they make developmentally appropriate demands for maturity.
4. Until and unless stepparents have forged a caring, trusting relationship with kids, parents need to retain the disciplinary role.
- My guideline for stepparents is, “connection before correction.”
- This very often takes years, not months!
- Once stepparents have forged a caring relationship, they can move slowly into an authoritaTATIVE (loving and moderately firm) disciplinary role.
- There are many healthy, thriving stepfamilies where stepparents do not have a disciplinary role.
5. AuthoriTARIAN parenting by stepparents is almost always toxic.
- Authoritarian parenting is not loving or warm. It is firm and hard.
- Authoritarian parenting often uses negative labels (“You’re lazy.” “You’re a slob.”), rather than positive requests (“I’d love it if you’d pick up your toys.”)
6, Meanwhile, successful stepcouples do work as a team.
- Often stepparents can help parents to firm up a bit.
- Parents can help stepparents to understand their children.
- Stepparents have input.
- Parents have final say about their own children.
7. Successful stepcouples face the same challenges that struggling stepcouples do.
- Successful stepcouples communicate frequently and constructively.
- They discuss their parenting differences with kindness, caring and genuine curiosity.
- Struggling stepcouples criticize and/or avoid.