I have the privilege of introducing Joshua Stern. Joshua is a stepson and family law attorney who practices in Illinois. This is the first of a two-part post, “A Stepfather-Stepchild Relationship – Eight Tips.”
Before I begin, I should probably give a bit of background information about myself. I am the son of divorced parents. Each of my parents found a new partner. My mom has been with my stepfather for the past fifteen years and I’m happy say my stepfather and I have a close and loving relationship, but that has not always been the case.
We have had our ups and down like any other family relationship. It’s this experience that has informed the advice I give my clients. After all, family law is about more than divorce and litigation. It’s also about helping people establish familial stability and get a fresh start. By and large, my advice to future stepfathers is as follows:
1. Let’s start with the hard part: you’re not your stepchild’s biological dad. This has no bearing on whether he or she loves you, trusts you, or wants to be around you. However, your stepchild may not start off loving or trusting you. You need to build the relationship like any other. Do expect a degree of respect and affection, but there won’t be any freebies here.
You will need to establish who you are to your stepchild. Are you their mom’s husband or are you someone who loves them unconditionally? Your stepchild needs to know and you need to show them. I suggest finding mutual interests or bonding activities. Find something that just the two of you can do.
2. Rule #1 also applies to introducing any children you have from a prior relationship. Don’t expect a relationship to form overnight, but do take steps to help facilitate it.
3. Depending on your stepchild’s relationship with his or her father, you may be wading through firmly established family dynamics and disciplinary rules. You need to be cognizant and respectful of them. Even if you disagree with them, any concerted effort to unilaterally change them will rub your stepchildren the wrong way and send the message you want to alter the way their family operates.
4. Know the rules of parental conduct. It is very common for divorcing parents to meet with a mediator or parenting coordinator to hammer out custody and parenting issues. Accordingly, many custody judgments and divorce judgments lay out parental guidelines. Ask your wife for a copy.
It’s good to know these rules and what both parents consider appropriate parenting. After all, these rules are likely the product of extensive negotiation and thought. You may disagree with them, but they are everyone’s baseline and should be followed.
Read more great tips on how to be a good stepdad in the Archive How to Be a Good Stepdad.
Thank you Joshua for an informative post. I wasn’t aware of the rules of parental conduct, it sounds like something every stepparent should inquire about and read. Joshua’s next post will conclude with the final four tips. Joshua will be contributing future articles on various topics. Please leave a comment if you would like Joshua to address a particular subject. Thank you.
The Family Law Offices of Joshua E. Stern offers legal counsel to Illinois clients in all areas of family law and matrimonial law. They provide representation in divorce, custody disputes, the dissolution of civil unions, post-decree and appellate cases, and prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.