A perceptive client of mine once stated, “I feel like I have been hired for a job without a job description.” He is right and in addition, there are often unspoken expectations as well. Typically, stepparents and their partners have expectations about what role the stepparent will have in the children’s lives that they may not even realize. What the couple may come to find is that their expectations may not be fulfilled and when expectations or hopes are not fulfilled then resentments, unhappiness, and grieving may occur. These are normal emotions for when things are not going right and they are our warning signals that it is time to re-evaluate.
According to a study performed by Gross (1987) 58% of adolescents between the ages of 16-18 did not consider their residential stepparent as a parent. However, 41% of the adolescents did consider their stepparent as a parent. According to Heppner & Frazier (1992) who established the Parental Status Inventory found indicators that the younger the age of the child when the stepfamily was established the stronger the parental status is for the stepparent. Parental status also takes time to develop. Therefore, it can be expected that a stepparent who is a part of a teenager’s life since they were 4 years old will be regarded differently than the stepparent who has only been a part of the teenager’s life since they were 15 years old.
As this study suggests, one of the factors that may affect a stepparent’s role is the age of the stepchild or stepchildren. This may mean that the stepparent will have a different role with each child based on their age. The younger the child the more likely you will assume a parent-like role, whereas, the older the child the more likely you will assume a mentor-like role.
Regardless of the age of the child, a stepparent is an adult with adult responsibilities first and they are a mentor and advocate second. It is important for the stepparent to focus their energies on building trust and nurturing their relationship with the stepchildren while establishing their role as an adult authority in the household. One successful approach is for the family to create and to agree to the house rules, expectations and consequences. Then, it is important that the children understand that the adults, bio-parent or not, are the decision makers of the house. This allows the stepparent to have authority within the house rather than acting as an authority over the child.
Christine Hurst lives in Kalispell, Montana with her two stepchildren and husband. Her passion is supporting parents, couples and families in their desire to have a successful partnership and family. She currently has a private practice offering counseling, parent coaching, groups and classes. To find out more visit: http://www.christinehurst.org or call 406-471-4515.
I publish Tokyo Families magazine for the English-speaking community in Tokyo http://www.tokyofamilies.com
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