Step families can be complicated, not least as you may have to regularly deal with, or discuss, someone who most men would prefer to not even think about – your partner’s ex.
Where your step children’s father is still a part of their lives, you and your partner will need to find a way that you will manage this relationship. You may agree that your contact with the ex is limited and that your partner has the required conversations and does the needed drop-offs or pickups. However, even in this scenario, there is also the likelihood that at some point you may answer the phone and it is them, or circumstances may mean you need to do a pick up one weekend – so it is important that on some level you are ok with dealing with him.
It is good to try and maintain positivity regarding your step children’s dad for numerous reasons:
Your step children’s wellbeing
Children adjust best following a relationship ending, when the parent they do not live with anymore still has consistent contact with them. It is therefore important that you or your partner do not cause any basis for visits and contact decreasing. The less a parent visits, the more a child is likely to feel abandoned, and the more difficult feelings they will have to manage.
Encouragement not barriers
Once parents remarry it is common that their levels of contact with their children lessen, and sometimes quite dramatically so. Research shows that dads are the worst offenders for this, and on average, their contact with their children can half within the first year of their remarriage. Whether you think their behaviour is acceptable or not, it is important to note that it does happen, and therefore how important it is to facilitate and encourage visits, where possible.
It is important that you do not come across as disliking your step children’s dad. He is their dad, and it may not only impact on your own relationship with your step children, but it also undermines the child’s self-esteem, and you are also putting them in a situation where they will feel conflicted – not good for them, and definitely not good for building relationships within your family unit.
Establishing the basis for their future relationships
We know from watching toddlers pick up toy phones and mimicking us, that children learn through watching our actions and behaviour. This does not change as they get older, and in fact, what they take on is even more subtle but deeply rooted. Children do learn about relationships, handling difficult situations and conflict, from how they see the adults in their life do it. Therefore as parents and step parents, we do have a responsibility to consider how we are reacting in these kinds of instances, and what our children are learning from us, and how this may affect them in the future.
Dealing with difficult situations
Being a parent is not always easy, and life does not always run smoothly. There can be tantrums, illness, rebellion, stress, trauma. There may be times when a child especially needs all the possible care and love from all the adults in their lives. There may be times, when having a parent living apart from a child, can be helpful in terms of giving some additional support to their child, and even the resident parents a bit of a breather. Being able to keep open these possibilities by maintaining as positive relationship as possible with your step children’s dad, can therefore be beneficial.
Sometimes your step child may not be able to have any contact with her dad, which is a difficult situation. Ideas about how to cope with this can be found here: How to support your step children when their biological father does not want contact