Statistics tell us that about 65% of remarriages involve children from the prior marriage and, thus, form stepfamilies. Of those families, 68.1% live with two parents and 23.3% live with only their biological mother, whereas 4.4% live with only their biological father. With these figures in mind, it seems that the majority of us, whether we are a custodial or non-custodial family, have to work with "the other parent" and "the other home". This responsibility is not for the faint at heart. Raising children between two homes can be one of the most difficult things you'll ever do.
Here are a few suggestions for you that may help you find sanity, success and acceptance:
The feeling of competition between households is not an unusual one. I believe it's almost natural, but I don't believe it's productive nor healthy. One way to alleviate this urge is to take steps focus yourself on your own household, and to realize that your primary role is to nurture. Providing is important, but children are not nurtured by material things, or certain levels of lifestyle. Children are nurtured by love, respect and attention. Make this your priority, rather than the summer trip or the new video games. Stepparents can do this simply by spending regular blocks of time one on one with stepchildren doing something fun! Here are some examples. Do this solely to benefit your family and your relationship with your stepchild. Children can sense when households are competing. They can and may try to use it to their own advantage. If children sense that parents are trying to outdo each other, or that they are comparing, their little minds will run with it and you will be getting more requests for Chuck E. Cheese and new swimming pools than you could imagine. Make sure that children know that your focus is on family and relationships, not "stuff".
Now this can be the hardest part of shared parenting. This doesn't mean that you have to agree with everything the other parent does or wants, but it means you make an effort to be fair and to give due consideration to what truly matters. If the other parent is of sound mind and has a reasonable attitude and outlook on shared parenting, odds are you can make it work. Communication is obviously paramount to cooperation! When both households cooperate in raising the children, the children gain awareness that even though different households may operate differently, their parents are capable of doing the work, to make it work. This is an excellent example for the children to follow and to apply in most any life situation, especially when they are older. If the other parent is determined to refrain from cooperating, continue to go through the motions so that the children are able to see that someone cares enough to do so and so that they can learn from the differences. Don't internalize it, and don't let it influence your parenting.
Pick and choose your battles.
I can't express how important this is. As a stepmother, and a biomom, I've learned the hard way and nearly lost my sanity doing it. When we are stepmothers, our role by nature feels peripheral, no matter how long we have been in the family, or how much involvement we have. When we feel like an outsider, to any degree, it's natural to try to impose ourselves, our roles, and our input on the other parents. Sometimes we fall into the trap of wrestling with every issue no matter how big or small, and we intend to win by having our say somehow or another! Doing this exhausts you and it can cause the other parent(s) to avoid you all together and cease cooperation. Conflict is not the vehicle to use to impose yourself or your wishes. There are times when you really need to decide if the hole in little Johnny's pants is what you want to focus your energy on all Saturday afternoon. Or is it the failing grade he received in May? Do you want to approach it constructively with a solution in mind, or do you want to poke at the other parent and lay blame? The saying "be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem" is a good one to keep in the back of your mind. Save yourself the angst, the tension, the negativity. Don't carry that around inside unnecessarily. Sweating over trivial or small annoyances is something you can stop on your own and those things are something that will only bring constant strife to all parties if you attempt to share it. Let it go, and worry about the important things like grades, attitude, and teaching respect. Refuse to get caught up in the other parent's petty digs at you if they happen, and don't give them that control.
Shared parenting between two homes can be complicated, confusing and stressful. If parents give careful thought, and are willing to put personal differences aside, in effort to do what's best for their children, it can be incredibly rewarding. Shared parenting does not go on forever. There *is* an end in sight. Stepparents deserve respect, acknowledgement, and admiration for their huge efforts. Biological parents deserve the same. Regardless of who deserves what, and why, and when, know that if you shared the parenting with the other parent successfully, you've accomplished what so many can not. Your step(children) have an advantage that many do not and it's love and maturity that will provide parents with the desire to be successful when working with the other home.
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