Older folks like yours truly may remember the TV show, the Courtship of Eddie’s Father. It starred Bill Bixby, before he was David Banner in The Incredible Hulk. It tells the story of a widower and his son’s search for a new mom. That’s not to imply that your stepchildren “recruited” you for their Mom, but there’s a certain amount of courtship on each side of the equation.
What makes this courtship significant is that, like your relationship with your girlfriend/fiancée, things change with the children after you are married-for better and worse. In many cases, you go from the buddy to the parent; the guy who played catch with them to the guy who now tells them to put their dishes in the sink. On your side of the ledger, they may not always be excited to see you when you walk in the door or hang on your every word.
All of that is okay. You are in a parent-child relationship now and it’s okay to evolve. But do not forget the things you did during the courtship period. If it was playing catch or a card game or going to a certain store or restaurant, do not let too much time go between doing those things. It’s actually pretty good advice for a marriage, too.
Relationships and people mature but you should never forget the things that made you fall in love and care about each other. Revisiting those things on a regular basis, for couples and stepparents, adds depth to your relationship. Plus, remembering to have some fun now and again is just a plain healthier way to live.
When I was dating my wife, my freelance writing practice was in its infancy. Translation, I wasn’t quite as busy and was paying rent on a one-bedroom apartment. So, I could play a lot of catch with our son. After the wedding, looking at a mortgage and three additional mouths to feed made it a bit more difficult to break away from the computer and have that catch.
It took some time for him to realize that I was a parent now, not a playmate. It also took more than an occasional reminder to myself not to forget to play catch because it was fun for me, too.
The post-wedding transition poses a major adjustment for an adult. Can you imagine what it’s like for a kid? Make a point of remembering to do those fun things you did before. You’ll both be the better for it.
One critical thing we did in creating our foundation as a family was including the kids in the wedding ceremony. You may be husband and wife after the ceremony, but now you are also officially a family. So finding a way for the children to be a part of the big day makes sense.
In our case, my stepson and his grandfather both gave away the bride.
As part of the ceremony, the four of us made a vow as a family after which each child received a special gift. In effect, the whole wedding should become your family’s wedding.
Now, you may or may not agree with this next part, but here goes.
There will be times, especially for younger kids in the elementary to middle school age bracket, when they will not like being disciplined by anybody, including Mom. But especially, Mom’s husband. On a few occasions, my wife has reminded our kids that being a family was what they wanted and that means accepting me as a parent with all that that entails. If that still doesn’t cut it with them, she reminds them that they made a vow to God.
This is not the reason for including the children in the ceremony. But it certainly gives the child more perspective at the moment when they are being reprimanded. And it does the same for you, in case you are tempted to overreact (which all parents, step- and otherwise, are guilty of).
One warning about including the kids in the ceremony. It can lead to some rather uncomfortable conversations for your siblings and their children. One byproduct of our wedding was that our eight-year-old niece wondered why she wasn’t at her parents’ wedding. Of course, that does provide a nice segue to a birds-and-the-bees discussion, but your siblings may not appreciate that.
The transition from Mom’s boyfriend to Mom’s husband and the new stepfather is not an easy one for anyone involved. Expect there to be a few bumps. Realize that you’re all in this together and therefore you have to get over those bumps together and you’re more than halfway home.