I first met my husband Mick in 2019 when my friend introduced us at a party. At the time, it wasn’t meant to be; I was in a relationship and Mick was fresh out of a decade-long marriage. But when we reconnected a year later, the stars were more aligned. We got married earlier this year and are living happily in Brooklyn as a blended family with his 7-year-old son, Myles, from his first marriage. Myles is such a light. And while I don’t think anything can truly prepare you to be a stepparent, I happened to grow up with a pretty good example of one.
My half-sister Lisa is 14 years older than me, and my parents married when she was 12. My biological dad is her stepdad. Growing up, I watched him juggle these dual roles, figuring out how to be a father to me and a stepdad to her. There were no guidebooks or templates to follow, so my parents worked to define the role he should play in her life and how it should differ from the role he played in mine. As we got older, I saw how these roles can change, even in subtle ways. When we were kids, she’d call him by his first name. Now, I notice, she mostly calls him Dad. Seeing that growth and evolution first-hand helped me understand the fluid nature of modern family relationships, and taught me how to be flexible in my relationship with Mick and Myles.
While I don’t think anything can truly prepare you to be a stepparent, I happened to grow up with a pretty good example of one.
In a blended family, bonds can’t be forced or fast-tracked. They tend to form at their own pace. But with patience, it’s possible to build lifelong relationships that are just as strong as those in traditional families. Here are a few tips from my own journey.
Take Things Really, Really Slow: I didn't meet Myles until Mick and I were engaged. That usually comes as a shock to people, but we wanted to be one hundred percent committed before bringing a child into our dynamic. It’s so tempting to sprint into a romantic relationship, but family relationships are different. At the end of the day, children don’t have a choice in the shape and makeup of their family. If you are going to make the choice for them, it’s good to have both feet in.
Manage Your Expectations: It’s normal for stepparents to expect, or at least hope, that they’ll immediately gel with their partner’s kids, but that wildly oversimplifies the complicated emotional dynamics at play. It isn’t just a matter of whether you’re fun or likable, or even of how much you have in common. It’s about whether the child is ready to welcome someone new into their home. In the end, what matters is that the bonding happens naturally and on the child’s terms. So go with the flow. You might not be in love with each other right away and that's okay. Real love builds over time.
In a blended family, bonds can’t be forced or fast-tracked. They tend to form at their own pace.
Honor Each Other’s Boundaries: I’m lucky. Myles’ mom and I get on really well and don’t speak a negative word about each other, which is not the case for many blended families, I know. She and Mick occasionally have differing viewpoints, of course, but the important thing is that we have respect and boundaries across the board. Issues between Mick and his ex never trickle down to me and Myles, and I’m careful to mind my place in their dynamic, too. The fact is, relationships with ex-partners are nuanced and complex; there's a lot of history there. Tread lightly, treat each other with respect, and always put the children first.
Own Your Identity as a Parent: It took me a long time to stop feeling like an imposter parent––to acknowledge the value that I bring to this family. Yes, Myles has two perfectly competent parents who are doing a terrific job. But I'm parenting, too. Get comfortable with parenting as a part of your identity; owning it will make a better, stronger parent. If you’re in a group chat and everyone is sending pictures of their kids, feel empowered to send pictures of your kids, too. As a society, we should be doing a better job of validating the critical role of stepparents. It’s common for parents to leave work early to pick up their kids, but stepparents, I would bet, feel self-conscious about that. Let’s find ways to embrace and support parents of all kinds, and let’s lead by example.
Nurture Each Individual Relationship: We’re really big on one-on-one time and I’m convinced it makes a world of difference. Myles switches back and forth between each parent’s house pretty regularly, and that can be draining on a child. So when he comes back from a long stretch at his mom’s house, we make sure he gets some alone time with his dad to reacclimatize. Those solo periods are important for me, too, since I’ve also undergone a huge change. In the end, it all boils down to being respectful—of the relationships that pre-date you, of any lingering sensitivities, of the time that people need to transition, and of everyone’s need, once in a while, for a little alone time.
It’s common for parents to leave work early to pick up their kids, but stepparents, I would bet, feel self-conscious about that. Let’s find ways to embrace and support parents of all kinds, and let’s lead by example.
About Carolyn Batyske:
Carolyn is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Tiny Organics, an early childhood nutrition company focused on shaping baby and toddler palates to prefer vegetables. Carolyn has been recognized by Partnership for a Healthier America as a member of their Shaping Early Palates Council and is a founding partner of the Veggies Early and Often campaign. She has a passion for mentoring entrepreneurs and serves as a mentor with Santander Bank’s Cultivate Small Business program, supporting women-, minority-, and immigrant-owned early-stage food businesses.