When my parents separated it was hard to imagine life without them together, and certainly I could not entertain the concept of them having new partners. Some 25 years on, I can honestly say that one of the best things to come out of my parents’ separation were my step-parents - the benefit of their friendship has been immense.
This raises the question of how should a step-parent navigate this relationship to try to secure a positive bond with their step-child? How involved should they be in their lives? And how do they ensure that the other parent does not consider them a threat?
A recent issue of ‘Take a Break’ magazine addressed this issue with an article entitled, “How to be a Super Step mum”. They noted that a Relate survey had found that just 61% of step-parents reported good relationships with their step-children, in contrast to 91% with their own children.
The article addressed this issue by providing ‘top tips’ to try to secure a good relationship with step children, which included:
- Be mindful of discipline – the rule of thumb – would you say this to someone else’s child?
- Don’t force it – take time to build a bond; be mindful of when and how you arrived in their life.
- Respect their wishes – allow them to express their wishes and feelings, and be open to accepting their views.
- Build your own bond – allow your step-child to spend time alone with their parent (your partner), and try to get to know them in your own right.
- Let them talk about their other parent – many children will feel awkward about discussing their other parent. Don’t probe them, but do give them the confidence to speak freely about their parent when they want to - it will help them open up.
From my perspective as a family lawyer, I would recommend that a step-parent needs to recognise that divorcing parents have to find a way to co-parent as cooperatively and considerately as possible. That can take time, and an overbearing, interfering and, frankly, too involved new partner can severely undermine the separated parents’ ability to co-parent effectively. You must allow them to raise issues directly with one another and work together to take the crucial decisions that affect their children’s live. Turning up to collect the children with your partner when you know your attendance will be inflammatory or engaging in a trial by text messages with the other parent will not be putting the children’s best interests first.
With 42% of all marriages ending in divorce (2019 statistics), the role of a step-parent is becoming increasingly important. The positive impact that step-parents play in their step-children’s lives is often underestimated and not recognised by society. However, your reward will be an enduring relationship with your step-child provided you navigate this relationship with sensitivity and care.
Samantha Jago is a Family Law Partner and Mediator. If any of the issues in this blog affect you, please do get in touch.