Maybe you’ve found the perfect mate, but he already has children, and that makes things a little complicated. You may even be wondering if this marriage can work with children in the mix. Will the kids like you? What will your daily lives look like with these kids? Will you like them? There is a lot of what ifs in this situation.
Be proactive and work hard to develop a relationship with your spouse’s children now and in the future. Here are some tips for dealing with stepchildren.
Follow the stepchild’s lead
You may feel anxious to develop a relationship with your stepchild quickly, but they may feel overly cautious. Realize that you can’t force them to open up to you; in fact pushing it issue may make them retreat even further. Respect their space and also their pace. They probably will want to take things very slowly with you. Remember, the child’s parents are no longer together, and that has rocked their world. You are the new person who is a symbol of what didn’t work out. They may feel you are trying to replace their other parent. Give them time to figure out that you are a different person who also loves them, and that they can trust you.
Help them feel “normal”
Remember that their world is very different from what they are used to. Before you married their parent, they may have had more attention and time with that parent; they may have done other activities that you aren’t necessarily interested it. Help them to feel “normal” in this new life. Encourage one-on-one time between the child and parent without you. This will help them feel connected to that parent, and eventually they will realize what a gift you are giving by allowing that relationship to flourish outside of you being there.
If you are the stepparent, you might be fearful of disciplining your new stepchild. Try not to be. The best thing you can do to foster trust and start building a rapport with them is through discipline. Obviously they won’t like it at first—taking away privileges or other punishments from you may seem unfair to them—but over time they will grow to respect you. Continually discuss with your spouse how you will both discipline. Always be on the same page. Then follow through each and every time. Children need that consistency, especially in this new blended family dynamic.
Love them despite their lack of acceptance
Especially in the beginning, your stepchild will most likely not accept you. It will be hard not to take it personally, but that is vital to the success of your family. Keep your eye on the long-term. Remember that children take a while to grow and mature; that includes figuring out how to love someone other than their blood relatives. Decide now that no matter what, you will love them anyway. Accept them for who they are, even if it’s not familiar to you. Give them love, and eventually, they will also accept you for who you are.
Show love in different ways
Children view love in different ways. Some crave being told “I love you,” and others feel squeamish when told that. Others love being hugged and cuddled, and still others would rather not be touched, especially by a stepparent. Try to figure out your stepchild’s love language, and then show your love in the ways that they recognize the most. Giving of your time and attention is most definitely a the top of the list, but solidify it by telling them how great you think they are. Also, just having an attitude of love and acceptance will go a long way.
Find ways to connect
You and your stepchild may not have much in common, which can make it feel impossible that you will ever be able to connect. What will you talk about? What could you do together? Think outside the box on this one. Maybe even go outside your comfort zone and show an interest in something your stepchild loves. Are they really into band? Make sure to go to all their concerts. Do they love to hike? Buy them a hiking book and bookmark one you could go on together. It may take a few tries to find something that helps link you, but the effort will be well worth it.