The addition of a stepparent is just that — an addition — not a new relationship that must tarnish or diminish the relationships that already exist between parents and children. Stepparents are often excellent resources for children who continue to love and enjoy time with their natural parents.
At the beginning, children may resent a stepparent’s attempt to play the parent. Take time to get to know your stepchildren. No child is perfect, nor is your parenting, so you can expect to make a few missteps. In an atmosphere of heightened expectations, misunderstandings are bound to occur. Accept that children may be “off and on” in their relationship with you. Issues of betraying the natural parent or simple adjustment often create conflicts within children so that they may have periods of being more aloof toward a stepparent, especially around transition times to the other parent’s household.
Your relationship with your stepchild is special, and a stepparent who understands and respects this relationship and the ongoing parent-parent relationship with your partner’s ex can sidestep many future misunderstandings. Stepparents should reach out to meet and develop a congenial relationship with their counterpart. Children benefit when they see respectful interactions among all parent figures.
Ideas to improve your relationship with your stepchildren:
- Let your stepchild know that you do not want or intend to replace the other parent. Never criticize your stepchild’s biological parents in front of the children.
- Let your stepchild know that you respect his other parent and understand that the children may feel very possessive of their parent.
- You recognize that your new relationship with this child may be difficult for him and that you are willing to give the relationship time.
- Be sensitive to your stepchild’s true, unspoken feelings.
- Acknowledge and support your stepchild whenever you “catch him being good”.
- Maintain a calm, positive attitude in the children’s presence. Like adults, children get angry sometimes. They may not get angry about the same things we do, and the things that anger them may sometimes seem insignificant to us but are very real to them.
- Maintain consistency. Maintain consistency. Maintain consistency.
Talk to your stepchildren in non-threatening language. Stop talking and listen. Try to understand not only what your stepchild is saying but what he/she means.
About the author of this Texas Divorce FAQ:
Carol A. Mapp, LCSW is a counselor and mediator based in Kennedale, TX.