When my husband, Randy, and I married, my two girls were 2 and 5 years old and Randy’s kids were 5 and 10 years old. Because we both had children of our own whom we parented daily, it was natural for us to try to parent our stepchildren also. But we quickly learned that we needed to form a relationship with our stepchildren before they would respect us as parental figures.
A common mistake new stepparents make is trying to assume a disciplinarian role too soon. The primary concern of a new stepparent should be about building a relationship. After a casual friendship has developed with respect and comfortable interaction taking place, a stepparent can begin to move into a parental role. The timing of when that happens will vary for every child, depending upon a number of variables (age of child upon marriage, frequency of contact with other biological parent, personality traits of stepchild, etc). It’s important for the stepparent to discern the nature of the relationship and how to change his/her position accordingly.
In the early years of our marriage, I was often in the position of babysitting my stepchildren when my husband was working. While still in the process of building relationships with one another, my husband explained to the kids that I was in charge while he was gone and they were to respect my role as parent. When he came home, he resumed the central role of authority with his kids. We learned that parenting our kids in the beginning went much smoother when he assumed the primary role with his kids and I assumed the primary role with mine.
When stepchildren are given the freedom to build relationships with their stepparents without alot of rules and discipline, the relationship forms with trust and respect, rather than resentment and bitterness. It requires more patience by the stepparent in the beginning but results in stronger relationships in the end.