A Step-mom’s Guide to Co-Parenting

Molly and girls and babies collage

Featured on Big Blended Family.

Wedding Photos of Molly and the girls, by Stacy Robbins.

I interviewed Molly, my daughters’ step-mom for some perspective for other parents. She is the primary parent in the other household, so it can get really tough, especially with the teenager!

As the primary parent in your household, do you think it helps that as the bio mom I am in close contact with you?

I think this makes things easier when it comes to the kid’s behavior. If they are acting up, I can call you and talk to you about it. We brainstorm the best approach on how to handle the issue. Sometimes when I get angry, my first reaction isn’t always the best one. Having you there to talk to and bounce ideas off of helps me to figure out a practical way to handle it. It also helps when it comes to dropping the kids off, picking them up and switching weekends or days for certain reasons. It makes it easier to transition the kids from one house to the other. Every time they switch–even though our rules are almost identical–it is still a change of pace for them, and for the parents.

How do you think it would differ if we did not talk?

I think there would be more issues with behavior if we didn’t speak. Just the fact that they know we talk, we make decisions together, and we back each other up makes them not so quick to push buttons at one house or the other. They know if they are in trouble there they are in trouble here and visa versa. I think it would be harder to plan events or gatherings, because the days we have them are not always the days that work best when we are trying to have a family get-together, and the fact that we can switch days really makes it easier. It also helps because the rules are the same. We both expect the same things from them when they are at home, with their school work, etc. I think it is better for them to not have two different sets of expectations, but the same set of expectations in both homes.

Do you feel that being the step-parent and primary parent in your household this presents more issues between you and the kids compared to if their dad were around more?

Yes. I tend to get stuck in the role of “bad cop.” And when there is difficult news to share with them or something that will make them upset, I get blamed for those things even if I’m just the one passing along the information. I also feel that sometimes because me and my husband have two kids of our own, they blame me and the two kids as to why their dad has to work so much, why he isn’t at home, even though he worked the same amount before we came along. They also don’t listen to me as well as they do their dad. I think because he works so much they think they can get away with more. By the time he comes home and I have a chance to talk with him, it is already time for bed. Usually, they are off to the other house the next day. So they think dad won’t remember it by the time they come back.
Good thing we get along: my daughter’s stepmom now has two children that are siblings to my daughters.

How do you think you and I manage that you are primary parent in your household well?

I think I would be pretty stressed out if I didn’t have you to count on. You are that sounding board for me when Jeff isn’t here to help. I can count on you for advice. You come and pick up the girls on the transition days and drop them off on the transition days, because you know its harder for me, due to the two babies. This is a huge help. We do things together to make our lives easier and less stressful. When I can help by picking the girls up from school and having them come here when they are sick so you don’t have to leave work; or have them come here after school when your husband has to stay late at work. Everything we do, we do to help each other out. I think the less stress we as parents bring to the table the less stress and behavior issues we have with the kids.

Being a step-parent is a very difficult job at times, especially when the step-parent does not have open communication with the other bio-parent. Are there any tips you would give to other step-moms who are primary parents who do not have open communication with the bio mom?

*If you can’t have open communication with the biological mom it is vital you have good communication and support from your husband.

*Make sure the kids know you are not trying to be their mom, but when they are at your house under your care they do need to listen to you and respect you.

*If you are having trouble with the children respecting you, ask your husband to step in and have a conversation with them when you are not in the same room. It not only give him the chance to “lay down the law” but it gives them the chance to speak freely about you (even though you may not like or agree with what they have to say).

*Make a chore chart or a behavioral chart so they can see what happens when they don’t follow the rules as well as what happens when they do what they are supposed to. Follow that chart to the letter, because this separates you as an individual from the consequences of their behavior. They are less likely to blame you for punishment.

Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of ten and fourteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.

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