When you move too fast, too soon, the kids tend to have long memories. It took years for Alex to say complimentary things about her stepmother, whom she met when she was 10. One of the most vivid memories from her childhood is what she calls Manners Boot Camp. “She was very strict. We would sit at the table to eat with my stepmother and Dad standing over us. They would watch us and critique us. They’d watch to see which forks we used or if we chewed with our mouths open.”
Today, Alex and her stepmother accept each other, but they are not close. “The hardest thing about parenting a stepchild is that you don’t know what you don’t know,” says author and stepmother Anne O’Connor. “You don’t know how you’re going to respond in a situation. How much are you going to rock that boat?
No matter how much you disagree with how parenting is happening when you get there, you have to be respectful of how they are parenting that child.” Telling Dad he doesn’t know what he’s doing with his children can leave him feeling criticized and defensive. So tread lightly when you’re having discussions with your husband about parenting.
My husband, Arne, describes the feeling. “Any time you have a new authority figure it’s going to be difficult. It doesn’t matter how much you love someone or trust someone. The first time you see your new wife reprimanding your kids, you’re going to feel defensive. If you notice it, you have to talk about it because something like that doesn’t go away all by itself.