He’s got to take the lead on the parenting instead of just sitting back and letting you do it, especially in the first few years. “Dad’s got to be supportive when you decide what your role is,” says Patti Kelley Criswell, a licensed clinical social worker in Portage, Michigan. “If you say, ‘I can’t stand it—the dishes aren’t done,’ he has to be the one who says to the kids, ‘Come on, guys, let’s do the dishes.’ He has to work hard.
Stepmom can’t run the house with someone else’s kids. That’s not fair, and that’s months or years down the road. Should kids do dishes? Yes. That’s not the point. It’s not that you’re wrong. It’s just not your role yet. You’re not family at this point; you can’t declare that you’re family. You grow into family.”
Darcy, the human resources manager, agrees. “My advice to new stepmoms is similar to what I say to new hires at work. You take the first six months and you observe, you listen, and you appreciate. Then you can initiate and execute. If you don’t understand and you don’t listen and you’re trying to push your agenda, it doesn’t work. It’s a process. You can’t expect the kids to love you right away. You have to grow together and learn together and make mistakes together.”
First, find out what the kids need. “It’s different in every family,” says Criswell. “Is there a bio mother around? If so, then you take on the role of the favorite aunt. What is Dad like? Can he parent? Or is he the kind of man who is looking for someone to do it for him? You have to earn it slow and steady with kids. Disapproval from a stepparent is like a bomb.”