Step Parenting in a Child Custody Dispute

As any step parent can tell you, there are good and bad moments in step parenting. Fortunately, many step parents build loving and meaningful relationships with their step children, despite the challenges that can come up. One particularly difficult challenge for many step parents is to work on their family relationship when their spouse and the children’s other parent are in a custody dispute. Here are three suggestions for step parenting during a custody dispute.

1. State your opinion, but don’t force it. Often you have the luxury of having an outside perspective that can bring clarity to the situation. You can bring helpful insights up to your spouse and help them deal with the dispute. However, don’t get upset if your spouse doesn’t act exactly as you want. Of course you get upset if it seems like the other parent takes advantage of your spouse and the children, but realize that they are the ones who need to work it out. You can say what you think, but ultimately let your spouse act in the manner they think is best.

2. Work on your own relationships. It can be difficult to not let the custody dispute spill over into your relationship with your spouse and the children. With your spouse you need to have good, positive communication about what is going on. If there are actions that are hurting your relationship (perhaps you feel they are putting the other parent above your needs) then you should explain it in a loving way. See yourself as a team to overcome the problems. And, still work on having fun with the children. Separate the children from your thoughts of the dispute so that you don’t put negativity on them. Plan fun, family activities and don’t bash the other parent in front of them.

3. Be patient and understanding. The greatest skill for surviving a custody dispute is being patient–especially as the step parent. Often, there isn’t a lot you can do to make things better. But, you can be a listening ear and you can be supportive of your spouse and the children. You can watch the dispute and not judge your spouse over the actions they choose. And, you can be patient with the children as they try to adjust to new circumstances and deal with their parent’s tension.

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