Are you a stepparent, or about to become one? If you find yourself in a serious relationship with someone who already has kids of their own, stepparent-hood is just around the corner. Becoming a stepparent is rife with challenges, but don’t lose hope: In time your relationship with your stepchildren can become positive and nourishing, but it does take patience to get there.
If you’ve got stepchildren in your life, here are some practical tips to help you navigate your new relationship with the minimum of stress.
Trying to fit into your step kid’s lives, or fit them into yours, all at once will lead to stress on both sides. Instead, start your new relationship off slowly with a short, informal meeting.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your stepkids-to-be. Just take things slow and keep your initial meetings easy and low pressure. Keep them on the short side (think an hour rather than an afternoon) and hold them in a relaxed environment, preferably one that your stepkids are familiar with.
Give them time
Your stepkids need time to grieve and adjust to the changes that happened in their lives when their parents split up. Accepting that their parents aren’t going to get back together, and that they have a stepparent in their lives, is difficult for children. They might well see you as the evil stepparent to start with – that’s only natural.
Don’t try to rush or push your relationship with them. Just stay fair and consistent and let them know that you’re there for them. Be clear with them that you’re not trying to replace their parent.
Treat them like part of the family
You might be tempted to give your stepkids special treatment to show that you want them to be happy – but resist! Special treatment will draw more attention to your new living situation and make them feel more raw and awkward.
Instead of giving them special treatment, include them in your family routines. Ask them to help set the table, or assign them some chores. Offer help with homework, or the chance to earn an allowance by helping out around the house. Apply the same ground rules as you would with your own family.
Give them a chance to be heard
If your stepkids don’t feel like they have the chance to be heard, they’re more likely to resent you. Watching their parents separate and knowing they have no power to change that is hard going for any kid. Work on giving them a voice and a chance to share their opinions.
Encourage their birth parent to be their first port of call so they can discuss their concerns with them in a gentle and non threatening way. Then, you can all share in the discussion. Let your stepkids know that you take their worries seriously.
Work on building trust
Trust doesn’t arrive overnight. Take the time to work on building trust with your stepkids so you can have a strong relationship in the future.
Start by listening to them carefully when they talk to you. Any moment they talk to you or ask for your help with something is a small demonstration that they’re open to trusting you. Honor that by listening to and validating them. Help them learn to trust you by respecting their feelings, and their privacy.
Watch your words
Becoming a stepparent is fraught with anxiety and emotions can run high on both sides. Your stepkids are working through some tough things, and they’re inevitably going to push your buttons from time to time as they work things out.
You’ll sometimes hear a lot of bitterness and resentment in the way they talk to you, and they will definitely try to push some boundaries. It’s important that you stay calm and watch your words no matter what you hear. If you snap at your stepchildren or speak to them with anger or bitterness, they’ll grow to resent you and your chances of a good relationship will dramatically reduce.
Treat all your kids the same
If you have kids of your own, you’ll find yourself becoming a blended family – and that’s not easy! But it’s vital that you treat all your kids the same, and when your stepkids are in your home, they are all your kids.
Talk to your partner and set up some ground rules for behavior, and then work as a team to apply those rules to all your children. Never give your biological children special privileges. It’s a surefire way to build resentment with your stepkids and damage your relationship.
Set aside family time
Make family time a regular part of every week. This lets your kids and stepkids know that you’re all a family now, and that time together is important. Perhaps every Friday will be movie night, or every Sunday will be swimming followed by hot dogs. Try to decide on something that you know your stepkids genuinely enjoy so they don’t feel pressured into it.
You might meet with a bit of resistance at first, but establishing family time as a non negotiable part of your weekly routine will give you vital bonding time and reinforce the idea that you want to spend time with your stepkids.
Becoming a stepparent is challenging. The road to a good relationship with your stepkids can seem like a long one, and there are plenty of bumps along the way. But if you keep your patience and commitment strong, you can build a nurturing relationship that will grow stronger as you get to know each other.