Parenting is challenging enough, and even more so if you’ve got stepkids. While a beautiful relationship isn’t going to happen overnight, it’s still entirely possible to enjoy a healthy bond with your stepchildren. Check out a few tips for making it happen:
Have Realistic Expectations
Give yourself time to form a relationship with your stepchildren! Love takes awhile to develop, especially when dealing with pre-adolescent and adolescent children. Some research suggests that children under the age of five will form a relationship with a stepparent within one or two years, however older children, especially teenagers, may take much longer. Think of your stepfamily as a crock-pot; it’s slow cooking, so don’t rush the dish:
- Let go of the idea that you or your stepchildren will immediately love your time together. Stepchildren are often confused about new family relationships, and feel both welcoming and resentful of the change simultaneously. Give children space and time to work it out.
- Allow yourself to not be completely accepted by them. Their acceptance is often more about their biological parents than it is about you.
- Give your stepchildren time without you present, preferably with their biological parent. Honoring them by providing this precious time will help the kiddies respect you sooner.
Loyalty to Biological Parents Will Interfere
Children will understandably be loyal to their biological parent, and they often feel conflicted when they actually like you. This guilt may lead to misbehaving, so help them deal with this struggle:
- Encourage contact with biological parents, and don’t ever bad-mouth said parents.
- Don’t attempt to replace a biological parent who is uninvolved or deceased. Instead, think of yourself an additional parent figure to the child or children.
Let the Children Set the Pace
It’s imperative to let the children set the pace of the relationship. If they seem open to you and want physical affection, give them all the hugs they want. However, they remain aloof and cautious, don’t force the relationship on them. Respect their boundaries, for it often represents their confusion concerning the loss of the biological parent and their new feelings towards you.
Remember to relax, accept your relationship with your stepchildren as it is now, and let it blossom organically over time. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a weather eye on their schoolwork and activities and be a part of such things, however balance is essential to avoid coming on waaay too strong. You can still share your interests and hobbies with them–for example, if you’re a great painter and your stepchild wants to learn, take the time to give him or her a few lessons.
Know Your Role With Discipline
One of the most confusing roles for the stepparent involves discipline–setting limits, enforcing rules, and so on. Allow your spouse to take the reigns with the biological parent for this one, and support both. If necessary, discuss what you should and shouldn’t do with your spouse. You don’t want to be reduced to the role of “babysitter,” but you also don’t want to try to punish the kids and have them flip out on you!
Yes, the challenges of being a stepparent are very, very real. However, the relationship that can develop is one you’ll undoubtedly cherish for the rest of your life. Be patient, be loving, and be a great example. It will all work itself out!