The role of a stepparent can be tricky and there’s no such thing as instant love between a stepparent and a stepchild. It’s worth your time to understand your stepchild’s perspective and to realize that you’re not going to replace their biological parent but you can still make a positive impact on his or her life.
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.
Ryan, a 48 year-old stepdad put it this way: “Sometimes I feel like an intruder in Trevor’s life. I don’t always know exactly how to relate to him but by showing interest and attending his basketball games, we’re doing 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 sports, music, or attending cultural events. For instance, inviting your stepchildren to share your love of visiting a new place while on a school 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.
8 ways to connect with your stepchild:
- Proceed slowly in your efforts to connect: 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 probably 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. By having good boundaries and giving them space, it 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.
- Adopt 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.
- Stay 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 on a daily basis.
- Form 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?”
- Be receptive to 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.
- Understand 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.
- Display 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 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 stepkids you respect their input will help cement a good relationship in the years to come.
Further, it’s important to cooperate with your spouse and have regular conversations about stepfamily life. Most of the talking will take place away from your stepchuldren but be sure to have cordial conversations and informal discussions about family rules, roles, chores, and routines with the kids.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.