Stepfamilies can harbor some challenging dynamics. For LGBT stepfamilies the dynamics can include having to address additional challenges such as coming out to the children, the community where you live, and the children’s schools. If the other biological parent is involved, these decisions can become even more delicate.
There are also the legal challenges. Now that marriage is an option, you may think that would be the cure-all to your legal rights in the family and as a step parent, but, a second parent adoption may be necessary.
What if you are living together but not married? Some states allow the non-biological parent to seek a second-parent adoption. In other states, however, if you are the non-biological parent and are not married to the biological parent, the only way to secure parental rights is to get married and seek a stepparent adoption.
There is not a set of rules out there on how to make the transition to a family. Each case is unique with issues and histories that need to be acknowledged and worked through.
Here are some suggestions to consider when faced with becoming a stepparent:
- Start slowly. Get to know the child. Plan outings and situations where the child can become familiar with the new relationship. Plan one-on-one time with the child as well as family time together.
- Discuss your partner’s expectations. Understand his/her views on parenting and your role in the family. Make a plan together.
- Discuss together how you need to approach the subject of the “third parent”, how to approach the subject with the child. Make a plan of approach concerning the third parent should he/she still be involved in the child’s life.
- The parent can begin to show how important you are in the family and that you, in no way, diminish the child’s importance to the parent.
- Set boundaries. Discuss the step parent’s role in the family. Require respect.
- Be caring and supportive. Try not to take sides or interfere.
- Save the role of disciplining until the relationships in the family are secure, understood and accepted.
- Talk to others who have successfully experienced transitioning into the step parent role.
According to Kate Kuvalanka, co-chairperson of the Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE) Board of Directors, “LGBT stepfamilies . . . exhibit unique strengths during the re-formation of their families as they are not bound by prescribed gender roles and tend to be more creative and flexible when meeting family members’ needs.”
Here are a few websites to visit as you start your journey:
The Stepfamily Foundation
Children of Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (COLAGE)
Freedom to Marry