One of the most common complaints of stepparents during counseling sessions is that they’ve tried to be supportive of their stepchild but they often get the cold shoulder or they get inconsistent responses from them. For instance, Monica, 50, married to Bill, 52, for one year, has been kind and caring, toward Kylie, 15, but she often ignores her or says things like “I don’t have to listen to you.”
During our session, I explained to Monica that the role of a stepparent can be tricky and it’s a good idea to try understand your stepchild’s perspective and to realize that you’re not going to replace their biological parent. However, you can still make a positive impact on his or her life. If you stay a positive role model, and have realistic expectations of him or her, it will probably pay off over time. So step to the higher ground and set the good example they deserve by being kind and showing compassion toward them on a daily basis.
Different from a biological parent, a major thrust of being a stepparent is to be an adult friend to your stepchild 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.
There are many ways you can develop a positive relationship with your stepchild if you invite them to participate in activities that interest them and introduce them to some of your hobbies such as sports, music, or attending cultural events. For instance, inviting your stepchild to share your love of bike riding or hiking can expose them to healthy, fun activities that can help you form a bond.
For instance, my husband Craig, a stepparent for twenty-four years, invited my son to learn about gardening and canning while he helped me raise him. As an adult, his stepson, took up these hobbies and he now sends Craig photos on his phone of his canned vegetables and pickles.
6 ways to connect with your stepchild:
- 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.
- Form a relationship with your stepchild 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 baseball game. How do I get tickets?”
- Be receptive to your stepchild’s view. First, it’s a given that your stepchild had a relationship with your spouse that existed before you came on the scene. Stepfamilies are complicated and even if your stepchild seems to like you well enough, they’ll sometimes want time alone with their parent and prefer you weren’t in the picture.
- Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as instant love. Even if you don’t 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. 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.
- Take it slow getting to know your stepchild. Rushing in can backfire because it may seem unnatural. After all, you will be most likely be seen as an outsider since your stepkid probably spent some time alone with their biological parent before you came on the scene.
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 stepchild but be sure to have cordial conversations and informal discussions about family rules, roles, chores, and routines with the kids. A weekly family meeting is a great idea to encourage an open dialog. Be sure to start with what’s working well, and them give everyone a chance to bring up a concern or problem. Invite one person to take notes and rotate that role weekly.
Remember to adopt realistic expectations about your stepchild’s behavior and responses to your kind gestures. Even if things went well when you were dating your spouse, it doesn’t ensure things will go smoothly once you’re married. A marriage effectively ends any hope of his or her mother and father reunifying and can reignite those feelings of loss for your stepchild. So, their behavior might change after you tie the knot.
Finally, attending some of your stepchild’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.
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.