Of all the difficult jobs in the world, step parenting must rank right at the top. Most family counselors feel like any second marriage that includes children should automatically be entitle to counseling to help with the transition to new step parents.

In the olden days, step parenting was very common. Mostly it was a new step mother that joined the family constellation. That was due to the high maternal death rate in childbirth. All those Disney princess stories, which came from the Brothers Grimm writing in the 1700’s, are always about an evil stepmother. Now days, we make movies about all kinds of families, but step parenting is still one of the primary reasons people seek out counseling .

When a child is born, there is a natural and physical maternal/fraternal bond that takes place between the child and parent. Research is growing that this early bond is very important in cementing the parenting relationship. This is not to suggest that that bonding eliminates all the problems of communication between parent and child. (Don’t we wish!) Naturally, with step parenting, this bond isn’t present.

It is for this reason that the most common advice to give to new step parents is to resist the urge to become another parent. When someone has been a single parent for a while, it is hard to always have to play “bad cop/good cop.” In this typical parenting game, one parent is the sterner, disciplinarian and the other one the nicer, friendly one. As single parents know, much of their parenting time is taken up being the ruler giver, chore manager, school monitor, etc. They often long for the change to have relief. When they fall in love with someone, they often fanaticize having a new “family” with two parents. They plan on the new parent becoming the person who does the enforcing. This is almost always a recipe for disaster. The child, who until the marriage of his parent has always had that parent to himself, has to share affection, time and attention with a new person. This alone is going to be hard for most children. Add to that a person who is suddenly disciplining them and the ingredients for an “evil” step parent are created.

So, briefly the advice most often given to new step parents is to be a support and friend to the new step child. Resist the urge to step in and support your new spouse by disciplining the child. Take is slowly and win over the child by being a consistent source of listening and encouragement. This is the same way you would establish a relationship with any in-law. Time is the thing that will allow your new step child to see you as a second parent that is an important part of their life.

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Gina Crozier, the director of Sonoma Family Counseling has been working with families and children for over thirty years. Her style of counseling is positive, solution-focused with the idea that within everyone there is the ability to solve their problems.