Being Sensitive to the Other Biological Parent
If your stepchild is an infant and the other biological parent is not deceased, it is obvious the breakup was rather recent. As a consequence, emotions may be running higher than in other stepfamily situations. It is important for you to be sensitive about this, and to parent in a way that keeps in mind the heightened emotions. If you are in a noncustodial situation, the other biological parent may request that you not be present during visitations, which the courts may approve for the time being. Keep in mind that she is probably hurting and is also afraid you may somehow bond with her child in a way she doesn't feel she can deal with at the moment. Although you may not see it this way, it is possible that she sees you as someone who stole her husband and could potentially “steal” her child, too.
Seeing you bond with her infant would probably be painful even if the breakup had been a mutual agreement. You cannot completely understand how she is feeling, and you should try to be as respectful as possible of her emotions. In time, she may feel more comfortable with you being involved with her child, especially if she can see you as someone who wants what is best for her child. If she sees you as someone who is in competition with her for her child's affection, it isn't likely she will want you around her child.
Even if everything with the breakup was fine and both biological parents are happy they are no longer together, the other biological parent may still have fears about leaving her child with you. Infants cannot speak or verbalize to their parents what happens in their day when their parent is not there. This is a big fear for a parent; not only is she letting you care for her child, she is trusting that everything is safe while her child is with you. Once a child is older, he can tell his parents if someone hurt him, but for now, when your stepchild is in your care the other biological parent has to trust that you are a safe person to care for her child. This alone is a huge obstacle for any parent; if there is any history of abuse within the family or if the breakup was emotionally charged, this obstacle will be even bigger. Time to get over wounds and getting to know and trust you as a caretaker may be the only factors that will make the other biological parent more comfortable with the situation.
Drinking, using drugs, and having all-night parties should not even come to mind when you are caring for your stepchild. If you feel you cannot stop these behaviors in yourself, be responsible enough to tell the other parent that you are not ready to care for his child because of these issues. Consider going to counseling or talking to your primary care physician if you are having a hard time giving up these behaviors.
As the other biological parent does try and trust you, be flexible when it comes to her calling to check in and make sure everything is going well. Also, if there were any guidelines to follow, be sure to follow them. If your stepson is to go down for a nap at three in the afternoon, don't wait until four o'clock because you are playing or put him down at two o'clock because a good game is on television. The more you comply with the other biological parent's schedule for her child, the more likely she will be to feel comfortable with you caring for her child.
Keep a Notebook
Since your stepchild is so young, try to share with the other biological parent how following the schedule went and maybe even note it in a notebook. Having a notebook that travels back and forth with an infant or toddler can help everyone feel more involved when they are not able to be with the child. If your stepson looks like he is about to take his first steps, put that in the notebook. You can share this notebook with your stepchild when he grows up as a fun memoir. A notebook can also be a respectful way of sharing information when the relationship between you and the other biological parent is somewhat tense. It may lead to opening up the gates of communication so you can move on to speaking to one another.
Dr. Peter Marshall, author of Cinderella Revisited, says that it's important to recognize the differences between blended families and nuclear ones. “I think the biggest mistake that stepparents make is trying to make the stepfamily just like a carbon copy of a nuclear family. Stepfamilies are not the same as nuclear families. They are very different. The biggest mistake people make is having a preset notion of what a stepfamily is and forcing it to fit into a mould which very often it cannot fit into.”