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10 Tips: How To Be A Great Stepparent
Use these tips to break down the barriers and become a great stepparent.

Trust of a stepchild takes time to develop, but can eventually come.

You have finally found the love of your life, and with him or her come three children, one dog and a hamster—every other weekend. Your fairy tale may have taken an unexpected turn that includes an instant family, but don't despair. Becoming a stepparent can be a rewarding experience, which often leads to a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment.

Now for a strong dose of reality, the bottom line is that a good "step" relationship doesn't just happen and is rarely successful without thought, preparation and hard work. Your personal behavior, the amount of effort you are willing to put into building a relationship with your stepchildren and the support of your new spouse are all paramount in making the situation work. Although your new stepchildren may not welcome you with open arms at first, there are measures you can take to make the stepparent-stepchild transition more comfortable for everyone concerned.

1. Don’t expect immediate love. Even if you have known the children prior to your marriage, living in the same house and sharing their dad or mom on a 24-hour basis will no doubt be met with its own set of issues. Be considerate of your stepchildren but don’t expect too much too fast. Let the children get to know you and observe through your actions that you are interested and committed to building a relationship.

2. Let your stepchildren know that it is not your intention to alter the relationship they currently enjoy with their dad or mom or to change their daily routines. Make it a point to try and "fit in" to their schedule rather than having them adjust their lives to fit into yours. Allow the children to spend time alone with their dad or mom rather than you insisting on being involved in every moment of their relationship.

3. Discuss the expectations. The unknown is often unsettling, and taking the time to discuss what is expected from each member of the family will allow your stepchildren to feel more at ease in the new family situation. Make sure your husband or wife (the biological parent) is the family spokesperson as you all sit down together to discuss a few family rules. Cover issues such as curfews, chores, homework, computer and television time. You may emphasize that the family rules are for their safety and protection, but be careful not to overstep your boundaries by laying down the law before you have developed any relationship with your stepchild. Decide what your role is in advance if a rule is broken and the adult in charge—if not both. In this family-friendly conversation, your spouse should communicate what rights he or she expects you to have when enforcing the rules.

4. Don't insist that your stepchildren instantly (or ever) call you mom or dad. Before this would even take place, a discussion with your spouse and the other biological parent is in order. When the time is right, after a relationship has been forged, set aside a time to talk to your stepchildren and express your desire for them to call you by a name that is endearing and comfortable for everyone concerned, offering them the option of calling you "mom" or "dad." Whatever their response, respect their answer and try and understand that for many children, it may feel as a betrayal of their biological parent.

5. Never criticize the absent parent. Make every effort to stay neutral when conflict arises between your spouse and his or her former mate. Also, steer clear from negative conversation about the ex with other parents that may want to get you caught up in the gossip you may have missed. It is easy to go down that road, especially if your relationship with the ex is contentious, but don’t do it. It is an unnecessary conversation and will only hurt your relationship with your stepchildren if they find out. Take the high road and just say, "My only concern is with Sarah, not her mom."

6. Let your stepchildren know that you are not trying to replace their biological mom or dad. Unfortunately, his or her ex may feel threatened and voice that concern to their children. You cannot control their actions, but it is important for you to stay cool, don't involve the child in the adult discord, and with every action you take remember that the ultimate goal is in the best interest of your stepchildren.

7. Allow your stepchildren to talk openly about their mom or dad. Your stepchildren should feel free to discuss their time away from you, which includes what they do when they are not with you and your spouse. Let him or her reminisce about past memories and experiences that they cherish, which may often include their mom or dad. Children of all ages need to feel free to communicate in order to feel happy and emotionally secure.

8. Be your stepchildren’s advocate. Encourage your stepchildren in all of their endeavors, class projects, goals and dreams. Go to their sporting events, school plays and any classroom activities they invite you to attend. Again, keep in mind the respect of the biological parent during teacher conferences, plays and other events. Acknowledge your stepchild's efforts and struggles and be a consistent role model. Over time, your stepchild will learn to trust and rely on you for honest feedback.

9. Take time for yourself. It takes an investment in energy to work on being a good stepparent. Feel free to reward yourself for a job well done. After all, there is nothing more important than positively influencing the life of a child.

10. Stepchildren have a role to play too. They should show courtesy and respect by acknowledging your efforts, remembering you on special occasions such as holidays, Mother’s or Father’s Day and other dates of importance. Even though you are not their biological parent, you deserve their respect and attention for treating them with dignity and kindness. A "family" does not have to be grounded in blood, but should have a commitment to love and support one another through the good times and the bad.

Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com.

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