Don’t try to replace their mother or father. This is probably the most important advice I can give on parenting a stepchild. Your stepchild already has a mother and a father. While you play an important role in the child’s life and should be regarded as an authority figure, you are not and will never be Mommy or Daddy. Accept that, and your relationship can get off to a great start. Unless your stepchild is more comfortable calling you Mom or Dad, let them call you by your first name. Treat them as you would a niece or nephew who has been left in your charge.
Don’t be afraid to correct or discipline them. Just because you are not your stepchild’s biological parent doesn’t mean they don’t have to follow your rules or do what you tell them to do. This is where your spouse must support you. This is the second most important tip on parenting a stepchild I can offer: Sit down with your spouse and agree to some house rules that your stepchild must follow. More importantly, agree on the consequences if the child breaks the rules. Then, if that happens on your watch and you apply the consequences, your stepchild won’t have the out of running to their “real” mom or dad.
Do show them that you care for them. You might not be the child’s real parent, but you are in a position in which you can offer parental-like guidance and advice as well as affection. Depending on how long you’ve had your relationship with your stepchild and what is appropriate, it’s OK to hug them and tell them that you are there for them.
Do spend time doing things together one-on-one. Another solid bit of advice on parenting in a blended family is to make the effort to spend time doing activities with your stepchild even when your spouse cannot participate. You might even enrich the child’s life by teaching her something that you know how to do. With three parents rather than the standard two (or four if your spouse’s ex is remarried) can result in the child getting to experience a wider range of activities and interests.
Do keep communication lines as open as possible between the two households. Practical parenting partnerships start with communication. If your spouse have a civil relationship with the ex-spouse this is much easier. If not, at least try to communicate when it’s in the child’s best interests. If the child is getting into trouble at one house, the other parent deserves to know so they can be more watchful and/or discuss the problems with the child.
And no matter the state of the relationship between your spouse and the ex, they should support each other’s time with the child. You can help. For example, if it’s a weekend your stepchild is to go and visit his parent but he says he wants to stay home and play with the neighbor child, encourage him to go and visit the parent. Remind him that the other parent misses him and wants to see him. (Just be sure there is nothing going on at the other parent’s house, such as abuse, that is keeping your child from wanting to go.) If it’s just a case of “it’s more fun here,” try to support your child’s other parent.
It’s hard to be a kid in a divorce situation, but there are benefits you can point out, such as having two rooms, four parents to dote on them and love them, and double the love.