If you are divorced with kids, chances are good that you will find yourself in a blended family situation one day. When at least one person in the relationship brings biological children into a new relationship, it can become stressful for all parties. Not to mention the troubles that may arise when a stepparent tries to discipline their step child. It is important not to blend your families with unrealistic expectations. It definitely takes time for everyone to adjust, and understandably so.
In a first marriage, the focus is all on you and your partner. In a second marriage, it is more about the kids. If you try to force a “new family”, chances are, it will not work out well. Kids of divorce can definitely take more time warming up to you than you may have hoped. There is also the possibility of them acting out more because they are still hurt from the divorce and it can be very difficult for children to see one of their parents with someone new. They may perceive it as someone trying to take their mother or father’s place and may also feel that if they show that they like the stepparent, that they may hurt the feelings of their mother or father.
Here are some tips for effective stepparenting:
(1) Support the biological parent
Step-relationships need time to develop. This is not something that can happen overnight. Let the biological parent make the decisions when it comes to their child. Leave the disciplinary role to them and just be their support system. This will alleviate stress on both the child and your partner. Instead, look for ways you can bond with the child such as being interested in their hobbies. Treat this new relationship as you would a new friendship. Find things to do together that you both enjoy. These are the types of things that will help grow and strengthen your relationship. As the saying goes, you get more bees with honey than vinegar!
(2) Refrain from trying to be “better than” their biological mother or father
People often think they just need to find ways to one-up the child’s biological parent to get them to like them – such as buying them nice gifts or siding with the child when they are upset. It is extremely important to never speak badly about the child’s mom or dad. This can be difficult if your partner is at war with their ex, but children are very impressionable and will remember what you said. Their loyalty remains with their biological parents after all. You have to respect that connection. You may be in a relationship with their mother or father, but that doesn’t give the right to act like their mother or father. Just focus on being present in the child’s life vs. being overbearing or trying to be “the hero” and fix things from the hurt of the divorce.
(3) Let your partner spend quality time alone with their child
If you are always around, the child may feel like they can’t be themselves, or talk about things they really want to talk about because they may not feel comfortable enough if you are present. They want to feel like they still have their parent … and not only when their new stepmother or stepfather is around. This can also lead to resentment. You don’t want the child to feel like they have been displaced by someone else. Ideally, you would encourage your spouse to do activities with their child alone on the weekends etc. They will appreciate you for being understanding and supportive vs. feel like they are being pulled in two different directions.
(4) Be loving regardless of how you truly feel about your stepkids
Every situation is different, depending on what happened to cause the divorce, how old the kids are, what type of relationship their have with their biological mother and father, etc. Understand how hard it can be to allow a stepparent into their life…and how hard it can be to adjust to this situation. They may come across as being disrespectful towards you and you may think that they don’t like you, but in many cases, they just don’t like the situation and that is their way of acting out. If you react to them in a negative way, it will only create a larger barrier between you. If you show them that you are loving no matter what, chances are much better that they will eventually come around and like you. Remember, these are kids…as adults, it is key to set a good example and take the high road when it comes to disagreements or uncomfortable situations. Put yourself in their shoes and be sympathetic to what they are going through.
You can develop wonderful relationships with your stepkids – it is possible and something you should strive for. You are married to their mother / father after all. Wouldn’t life be so much better if you put the effort towards fostering healthy relationships with each other? The key is to be patient, mature, understanding, positive, and committed to making it work.