Stepmom Caitlin McKitterick shares her advice for soon-to-be stepparents of little ones.
So, you’re expecting a toddler? Congratulations!
This most likely means you’ve committed to spending your life with a partner who already has a child between the ages of two and four.
You are about to embark on one of the most challenging, yet beautiful rides of your life!
As a childless stepmom to a four-year-old boy, I must warn you that toddler parenting not for the faint of heart. It will not always look like the charming afternoon playdates you had early on.
Shortly after moving in with my husband and his son, I turned to Google, desperately searching “how to stepparent a toddler.”
I found tons of advice on how to de-escalate tantrums, how to raise emotionally intelligent preschoolers, tips for time-outs, and potty-training essentials. But no advice on how to do these things with a small child you’ve only known for a few months. A child who doesn’t love you or trust you yet and who has no connection to you from birth.
The bulk of stepparenting advice that exists tends to focus on older children and teenagers, such as:
Step back from disciplining. But what if they’re still learning right from wrong, and safe from unsafe, and you have to correct certain behaviors in the moment?
Talk to them about their interests. Okay, but what if they are not verbal yet?
Give them their space and let them come to you. But this goes against all the research on how to develop secure attachment with a toddler as one of their primary caregivers.
For the past two years, I’ve learned how to stepparent through trial and error with incredible support from my husband. If you’re a soon-to-be stepmom to a child under four, here are some of the things you can expect from your new role.
Expect To Master the Ins & Outs of Baby Gear
If you’ve ever tried to open a stroller for the first time, then you know you could get a kid to eat a bowl of broccoli faster. YouTube will become your best friend during the times you’re alone and trying to open or close the stroller, install the car seat, or attach the high chair tray. As stepmoms, we don’t get a baby shower and the opportunity to practice using the gear for months before our children arrive, so be sure to practice before your solo debut. There is nothing worse than a screaming baby who is stuck in a car seat you can’t unbuckle.
Expect To Change Diapers & Take Part In Potty Training
Unfortunately for stepmoms to toddlers, there are no prenatal classes to teach us how to change diapers or potty train. After putting on several diapers backwards, followed by an inflated baby-butt situation in the pool because I had absolutely NO idea there were separate diapers for swimming, I finally asked my husband for help. Don’t pretend like you know everything! Reach out for support when you need it!
Expect To Be Involved In Discipline
Many stepparenting coaches advise stepmoms to step back when it comes to discipline, but that’s not so easy when you’re co-parenting a toddler. Two-year-olds are immersed in discovering the world around them, and it is our job as adults to teach them what is safe and unsafe. Their brains also lack emotional and impulse regulation. Immediate consequences are necessary to teach them when behavior is inappropriate. We can’t delay consequences for biting, hitting, or throwing. As a stepmom to a child under 4, expect to naturally develop a disciplinary role.
Expect To Interact With The Biological Mother
If your child’s biological mother is in the picture, she will probably want to meet you, which is 100% expected and understandable! Since routine is so important for a child at this age, especially one who is going back and forth between two homes, expect for your partner to be in regular communication with their ex. You will probably interact with her more than you would if you had older stepchildren, so you may need to set some boundaries with your partner in terms of how your co-parenting dynamic will look.
Expect A Disruption In Your Sleep Routines
Your stepchild may not be fully sleep trained yet. Be prepared for 2 AM nightmares, 5:30 AM weekend wake-up calls, and nights before a big day at work where you are up all night with a sick child. These moments will be a part of your new normal and the ones you reference when someone tries to tell you that you’re not a “real” parent. Don’t listen to them. Stepparenting is parenting. The dark circles under your eyes prove it.
Expect To Form An Unbreakable Bond With Your Stepchild Who Will Not Remember Life Before You!
I am so grateful that I came into my stepson’s life when I did. I would take those diaper-malfunction, mall-tantrum, car-seat struggle moments over anything else. I am thankful he will always have memories of us that date back as far as the ones with his biological parents, and that we will always share our own special unbreakable bond.
Caitlin McKitterick is a Canadian-based teacher, wife and stepmom of a four year old boy. On her blog www.bubblytobedtimestories.com, you will find the ramblings of a bachelorette-turned-stepmom on how she strives to live a balanced, inspired and fulfilled life amidst the chaos of a blended family.