THE BLOG

I Was a Flexible Parent and Then I Became a Step-Parent

01/21/2014 03:38 pm ET | Updated Mar 23, 2014
  • Dr. Kate Roberts Child and school psychologist; couples counselor; relationship expert
Folio Images - Lena Katarina Johansson via Getty Images

Like physical trainers who emphasize the relationship between strength and flexibility, I believe that strong parenting comes with greater flexibility. I developed a flexible parenting training program that I use when coaching parents in my practice. Where was that therapist when I entered the world of step-parenting? My parenting gave new meaning to the words rigid and over controlling. I was a step-blank. You can fill it in; it's not a positive image.

If had considered the complexities of the step-parent relationship in advance of assuming the role, I would have asked "So how can I extend myself and adjust my expectations while attempting to establish a tone of authority"? In hindsight, it came down to my ability to trust my parenting skills regardless of the situation. I didn't, and a downward spiral of powder struggles and stand-offs ensued.

Contributing to the chaos was our lack of planning. My husband and I literally merged households on the fly. Basically, we weren't thinking, allowing ourselves to be ruled by our desire to be together. Parenting struggles? What? We could not have been less grounded in what we were doing- blending his -- two tween/teen daughters and mine -- two boys ages 2 and 5. It was like we decided what we wanted to happen and actually believed the kids would follow suit. I guess love is blind.

Instead of being the flexible, reasonable parent that I am, I became the control freak parent I am not. No one liked me, least of all me. In contrast to my boys jumping up and down in anticipation of the girls' arrival for the weekend, I cringed. The girls looked culture shocked most of the time and they tended to get sick a lot, holding up for days in their bedrooms while I had to explain to my boys that the weekend fun was over before it started.

One of the biggest challenges for us was integrating the needs of the two older girls with the two younger boys and the use of technology conveniently became a magnet for much of the conflict in the house.

My own kids being preschoolers, what I knew of tech use in kids came from what I witnessed in my practice -- tech obsessed 7 year olds -budding addicts- on the verge of breakdowns when their parents followed my advice and attempted to limit tech use. I'd have plenty of time to research and plan before I crossed that hurdle. I reassured myself that my kids would be tech free until I was good and ready for them to use devices. Well that was until my step daughters arrived for our first "blended family weekend"with ipads, computers, and iphones in tow. Needless to say, it didn't go so well.

Looking back, I think "so what if my kids were exposed every other weekend, I would have handled that." In fact, not long after they were introduced to tech at their father's every other weekend. And there was nothing I could do about that.

Today my boys are in elementary school and they are responsible users of Mine craft, Xbox and Skype. That means they practice gaming in moderation; it's "off "when I say so and we don't fight about it. It's that way not because I'm lucky; it's because I really do know how to parent and be flexible. I somehow forgot that in the context of my blended family.

So much occurs in a blended family that parents are not prepared for. That's what makes flexibility even more imperative in a blended family. My oldest stepdaughter, now in college, visits regularly. Today I value her tech knowledge more than I ever thought possible; ironic huh?

Whether its tech or make-up or clothes or some other trend, parents and step-parents won't be ready for what their kids throw at them. Parents' best ammunition is in the moment flexibility paired with the ability to be reasonable. When parents become too controlling and rigid they should ask themselves; what am I really afraid of? I guarantee it's not the teenager in front of them; it's the person in the mirror and whatever is hanging in their closet. Unlike some step mothers, I think I've learned enough that I can look in the mirror without saying "mirror, mirror, on the wall...."