It's not easy being a step parent.
Clinical psychologist Jeanie Cave says most step parents have good intentions but are frustrated because their role in society is not clearly defined.
Most step parents aren't evil; they are just really frustrated.... Where do they fit in?— Jeanie Cave, clinical psychologist
She explains how step parents have been vilified throughout history in film and literature.
Cave advises that step parents face a lot of pressure to resolve the anxieties of step children, due to lack of communication from their biological parents.
We often say the child is not giving you a hard time, their having a hard time.— Jeanie Cave, clinical psychologist
She offered the following advice to step parents trying to do their best:
- Talk things through
Cave explains that it is important to establish roles, boundaries and open channels of communication between step parents and step children.
She says step parents can find themselves alternating between feelings of guilt and resentment if they don't.
Clear communication and effective expression of needs will help prevent that.— Jeanie Cave, clinical psychologist
- Focus on your relationship with the child
According to Cave, it is important for step parents to separate their relationship with their partner from their relationship with the step child(ren).
The child is a person, not a project. It's not your responsibility to make sure how this child turns out, you won't be marked on how they turn out at the end of the day.— Jeanie Cave, clinical psychologist
She says that the adult must build credibility, trust, empathy and respect over time with the child in order to set up boundaries.
- Don't point fingers
Cave says it is important to foster a non-blaming, non-judgmental environment within the family.
- Find what works for your family
Family dynamics differ from household to household and Cave advises that it is important for families to figure out their own unique ways of dealing with differences or discipline.
Also read: Why family interventions aren't ideal
The clinical psychologist answered several questions from listeners who called in to share their personal stories.
Take a listen to her expert advice:
A painful call. At 14 she found out accidentally her 'dad' was her stepdad. She is now 64, and still deeply betrayed and broken. No words.— Eusebius McKaiser (@Eusebius) May 22, 2017
@Eusebius I feel her pain.Found out doing matric in the streets that my dad was not my bio father.It was 2 late coz he was late. Its sad— Hlengiwe (@Freshfacedcosmy) May 22, 2017