One of the most common forms of adoptions in general, and open adoptions, in particular, are the adoption of stepchildren by their step-parents. These adoptions are different from traditional newborn adoptions or adoptions that begin as foster parenting in that the child or children are biologically connected to one partner, but not the other. This creates some special dynamics that you need to be aware of in the adoption process and as a step-parent.
So, what exactly do you need to know if you are a step-parent planning to adopt your step-child?
Roles of Other Parents
It is essential that you have a solid understanding of who the other parents are in the life of the child, what their roles are, and how to communicate with them if necessary. Step-adoptions come in a wide variety of situations. Some parents have their parental rights revoked by the court, others give them up entirely. More often, this is an open adoption, and you are part of a custody agreement. Sometimes you are signing on to be an additional parent and will never be the primary parent in the life of the child.
Each role should suit the parenting needs of the child, so no answer fits every situation perfectly. The key is being aware of those roles and communicating well with the other parents.
Boundaries and Favoritism
Boundaries are essential in any and every parent-child relationship. Sometimes step-parent relationships get treated like a kind of second-class parent within the family. Setting and maintaining unclear roles and boundaries can lead to one or more family members taking advantage of each other in unhealthy ways. While every situation is unique, this phenomenon cross cultures across history. We do not have to look very far in any culture to find stories of cruel stepmothers, stepfathers, and step-siblings.
Being firm about boundaries with your step-children does not require you being mean. Most often, it is not your sole responsibility to discipline or correct behavior. In most situations, there is at least one other parental figure you can work with. If you work with the other parents, your stepchildren will find it very difficult to manipulate us to their own considered advantage. If you try to do it on your own, you will be frustrated by everyone else in the family.
Important boundaries are not just for stepchildren though, they are also crucial for stepparents themselves. It may seem natural for them to show favoritism for any biological children they may have. Indeed, it may seem so natural that they are not aware they are doing it. That is why it is vital for them to be mindful of boundaries themselves, to ensure that they are genuinely treating their adopted child with the same love and fairness that they treat their other children.
Teamwork and Communication
Stepparents cannot expect to do this alone. Everyone needs a reliable support system, and that is one of the purposes of family. While it may be awkward and inconvenient to try to communicate with a partner’s former spouse, it will go a long way in helping provide a truly supportive family structure to raise the shared children within.