Don't Be a StepMonster

Summer.  No school, less work, more family time.  In today’s world that often means dealing with ex’s and step’s and all that blended families have to offer.  Step-parents frequently complain of difficulty connecting with their new charges.  Rightfully so.  Giving birth to and caring for a baby gives you years of closeness and trust that help the relationship survive the disciplining years.  It’s an annuity step-parents don’t have. So what can you do when your new husband’s sixteen-year-old darling shows up on your doorstep for a summer stay?  Before you lay down the law, here are Five R’s to take you from StepMonster to StepMom (or Dad!) + one C to avoid at all costs. Just follow these steps:  

1. Relate to the kid.  You don’t have a history with your stepchild, so make one.  Do your best to take an interest in something he or she likes.  Does your stepson glue himself to Chopped and Triple D?  Sign both of you up for cooking classes.  Does your stepdaughter read book after book on marine life?  It may be time to try that new zip line at the Virginia Adventure Park. Try to have some empathy.  They’re probably as uncomfortable as you are.

2. Reach out to the biological parent.  If a behavior becomes a problem, don’t tackle it alone.  The father may have a unique perspective on the behavior.  Remember, the biological parent knows the child best.  Address any issues with the child together.  Better yet, have the biological parent do the talking.  Coming across as a team will boost your credibility and chances of getting heard. 

3. Reason behind the rule. Your stepchild doesn’t know you either. Make the extra effort to explain why their behavior is a problem for you. “When you come home at three in the morning, it wakes me up and then I’m tired and ineffective at my job the next day.”   This helps the stepchild understand you, but also invites him to solve the problem WITH you. 

4. Revisit. After explaining your position and before making a rule, see if the stepchild makes adjustments herself.  “If you can come in quietly, then maybe we don't have to set a curfew.” This helps build trust between you.

5. Rule. Keep in mind, no one likes rules.  The older the child, the more true this is.  But, if the disruptive behavior continues then, by all means, set a rule.  But also give a promise to revisit it if the behavior improves. For example, “You’ve done a good job turning the TV off at 5:00 every day this week, so I’m going to lift the rule and see if you can monitor yourself from now on.”

6. Don’t compare your stepchild with your own child.  All new relationships take time and communication to develop.  You wouldn’t expect a new friendship to be the same as a lifelong one so don’t set you and your stepchild up for a huge disappointment.  Your daughter might snap to when you ask her to do something.  Your stepchild might need to see you teamed with Dad along with more relating and reasoning before complying with a request to change.   
 

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Laura F. Dabney , M.D.

Laura F. Dabney, M.D., trained at Eastern Virginia Medical School and practiced emergency, in-patient and consult-liaison psychiatry at all the area hospitals including Sentara Norfolk General and the Veteran’s Hospital in Hampton. As a doctor of psychiatry, she treats patients with medication as well as all of today’s popular therapy techniques. As a physician, she can figure out if your symptoms are due to a medical or an emotional problem. Many medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, can cause emotional symptoms and thus be mistaken for a psychiatric problem. A medical background provides Dr. Dabney with the ability to give you an accurate, safe diagnosis. Dr. Dabney keeps up to date with her medical training as a member of various professional organizations. For more information, visit www.drldabney.com, call 757-340-0800, or email dabneyoffice@gmail.com.

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