I am a new stepparent to a young (preschool-age) child and could not be happier about my new family. I get along great with the child and my new wife is welcoming me into their lives (the biological father is not in the picture). I am wondering, though, how to proceed in the future. What is the right balance to strike as the child gets older and needs more discipline? As I will be the primary male caretaker, I don’t want to make any mistakes. Please advise.
– New Dad
Dear New Dad
I appreciate that you are going with the label of “New Dad,” because that’s exactly the right mindset for this. But as such, I’d primarily recommend that you release the goal of not making any mistakes – that’s just not realistic.Being a parent means you make mistakes. A great starting point is recognizing that this is inevitable because that will make you more receptive to feedback and assistance from others – and once you lower your defenses about them, you will find that those two things are your very best tools as New Dad.
Speaking of feedback and assistance, start with New Wife. She’s the parent who has been in the picture the longest, and (at least for now) what she says, goes. Following her lead is a simple guideline to get you started. I also suggest that you two become very deliberate about your co-parenting. Just as I would recommend ongoing marriage counseling (build a relationship with a therapist so that you can go back for regular tune-ups) to help you both be heard and understood as you grow into your partnership, think about finding a place you can learn about co-parenting together. Take some time to discuss your vision for your family – New Wife’s vision may be different from yours, and that’s worth knowing. I imagine that this conversation could feel difficult or contrived, but that’s not a good reason to avoid it. Trust me, an honest conversation about what you both want when things are going well can be the reminder that will help you find each other when things change (and that time is unavoidable, so be gentle with yourselves and stockpile some of the tools you will need in advance: patience, respectful communication skills, etc.).
One last point to make is that this is not necessarily going to be easy – why should it be? Being a stepparent is a complicated arrangement – but you are asking the right questions at the outset; just keep ‘em coming.
Stacy Notaras Murphy (www.stacymurphyLPC.com) is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacymurphyLPC@gmail.com.