Most of the stepparents who contact me for support tell me they had no idea what they were getting into. One stepmom, Dana, put it this way, “I was never a mom before, and when I married Tim, I was blindsided by his daughter’s jealousy and anger toward me. I was getting by trying to be nice to my new stepdaughter, but comments like ‘You’re not my mom!’ made me feel disrespected.”
Different from a biological parent, a major thrust of being a stepparent is to be an adult friend to your stepchildren on some level. Not like a school friend, but an adult friend is more akin to being a mentor who is also a parental figure.
It’s important not to rush the process of disciplining your new stepchildren, especially if they’re teenagers or have a biological parent in their life. Focusing on giving your stepchildren time to adjust to their new living situation and being a good role model will set the stage for a solid relationship with him or her over time.
One stepdad put it this way: “At times I felt like a stranger around Tommy, my stepson when I first married my wife. I didn’t know exactly how to relate to him. But after a while, by showing interest and attending his football games, things got better and I no longer feel like an outsider.”
There are many ways you can develop a positive relationship with your stepchildren if you invite them to participate in activities that interest them and expose them to some of your hobbies such as bike riding or traveling. For instance, inviting your stepchildren to share your love of visiting a new place while on a summer vacation can help you form a friendship as you explore a new area.
Further, attending some of your stepchildren’s school events, showing interest in their hobbies, and supporting their need for one-on-one time with your spouse can promote a caring relationship. This takes time, years really.
Stephen, a seasoned stepdad put it like this, “I started going to Alicia’s basketball games and showed enthusiasm. At first, she was a bit distant but after inviting her friends to have pizza afterward and talking about the game, she warmed up.”
10 Ways to Connect With Your Stepchild
- Stepparents need to proceed slowly: Take your time in getting to know your stepchild. Rushing it may satisfy your own unmet needs to be liked but backfire. After all, you will be most likely be seen as an outsider since your stepkids spent some time alone with their biological parent before you came on the scene.
- Be supportive of your partner and their need to spend time alone with their biological child. Having good boundaries and giving them space will pay off in the long run. Try not to feel neglected by him or her. Make plans with your friends and graciously step out of their way.
- Have realistic expectations: Just because things went well when you were dating your new partner, doesn’t ensure things will go smoothly once you’re a committed couple. A marriage effectively ends any hope of his or her mother and father reunifying and can reignite those feelings of loss for your stepchildren.
- Be a positive role model. Remember that your stepkids will be there for the duration whether or not a positive relationship unfolds with you. Step to the higher ground and set the good example they deserve by being kind and showing compassion toward him or her.
- Develop a relationship with your stepchildren through hobbies and interests. Sharing interests from sports to the arts can only help you develop a bond. Be persistent if he or she fails to invite you to an event or activity. Keep in mind, you’re the adult and need to be the mature one. Say something like: “I’d love to go to your basketball game. How do I get tickets?”
- Understand your stepchild’s view. First, it’s a given that your stepchildren had a relationship with your spouse that existed before you came on the scene. Stepfamilies are complicated and even if your stepchildren seem to like you well enough, they’ll sometimes want time alone with their parent and prefer you weren’t in the picture.
- Be supportive of your spouse and their ex working out holiday or vacation schedules. Try to be courteous and respectful of the “other parent”, keeping in mind that it’s likely that neither parent would have chosen having their children live with them part-time.
- Realize that there’s no such thing as instant love. Even if you do not hit it off with your stepchild, you can still develop a working relationship built on respect. If your stepchild doesn’t warm up to you right away that does not mean you have failed. Adopting realistic expectations can help you get through some rough spots.
- Cooperate with your spouse and have regular conversations about stepfamily life. Most of the talking will take place away from your stepkids but be sure to have cordial conversations and informal discussions about family rules, roles, chores, and routines with the kids.
- Present a united front with your spouse. This very helpful to the formation of a healthy stepfamily. This action requires respect, caring and lots of love because it may not be easy to do if you do not agree with your spouse. Caring and respect are especially important, cannot be rushed, and are “earned” or granted over time among all family members.
Be sure to encourage and listen to your stepchildren’s input so they’ll feel validated. Ultimately you and your spouse are the adults who have the last say on household decisions but showing your stepchildren you respect their input will help cement a good relationship in the years to come. One way you can do this is to hold regular family meetings. Below are some helpful guidelines to assist you in getting started.
While not an original concept, a family meeting can take on new meaning in the remarried, step, and blended family. The immense effort it can take to get all family members together is one space is worthwhile in most cases. But by no stretch of the imagination are these meetings easy or without conflict. The most important aspects of the family meeting are structure, flexibility, active listening, and having a recorder to write all your findings down.
Family meetings are useful to plan events and to hash out new roles, rules, and problems that exist between family members. For the most part, a family meeting is a good place to be vulnerable with each other and to let your feelings, thoughts, and needs be heard by other members in a safe atmosphere. As long as feelings are stated in a non-blameful way, solutions can be reached through compromise and good listening skills. The stepparent’s and parent’s goal should be to understand their children and stepchildren and build a family culture of appreciation, respect, and tolerance.
4 Tips for Setting Up Family Meetings
- All members need to have choices regarding the day and time of the meeting. It’s important to try not to leave anyone out, meet on a regular basis, and set a time limit.
- Family members are advised to write down complaints, suggestions, or grievances on a slip and put them in a box. A meeting can be held when there are several slips in the box or about once a week.
- It is a good idea to request a different volunteer at each meeting to be a scribe and to keep these notes in an agreed-upon location in your home.
- Any family member can request a family meeting with at least one days’ notice given to other members.
Most of all, have fun and enjoy your time together as a stepfamily! Remember that you’re creating positive memories that will endure the test of time if you focus more on understanding your stepchildren rather than seeking to be understood.
Terry Gaspard is pleased to announce her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks). Her new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around (Sounds True, 2020) offers 10 essential keys to a successful remarriage. www.movingpastdivorce.com