The step relationship requires special care and cultivating. As long as you recognize that connecting with your stepson/stepdaughter doesn’t happen automatically, and there are some things to look out for, you can begin to develop a great relationship with him or her! Here are some tips for connecting:
• The best rule of thumb is to go slowly. Understand that you will need to invest time in the step relationship; expecting instant results is not only unreasonable, but is likely to backfire and create more problems. Begin by building a positive and caring relationship, and be sure to allow for the parent and child to have their own time together outside of the step relationship, too.
• Allow your stepchild to express her feelings – good, bad or ugly. Easy to say, but hard to do: listen without taking it personally. In fact, listening – rather than talking, instructing, or disciplining, is the first and most important step to connecting. Once your stepchild’s negative feelings are out in the open, there’s room for the positive ones to come forth. Consider it a necessary “cleansing” process.
• The stepparent who throws him or herself into the parent role, especially the role of disciplinarian, is likely to meet a good deal of resistance from the stepchild. Often this resistance will be more passive or result in acting-out, as opposed to outright rebellion. So, back to rule #1: go slowly.
• If you don’t have children of your own or children around the age of your stepchild, educate yourself on developmental stages. Then you can understand better what your stepchild is going through. This gives you a benchmark that can be really handy when you and your spouse might be arguing about whether their behavior is “out of bounds” or “normal”.
• Give your stepson or stepdaughter the benefit of the doubt – their internal world might be overwhelming and quite conflicted. They are coping with many pressures at the same time: developmental changes, relationships with peers, academic pressure, emotional fallout from their parents’ divorce, all in addition to getting used to having a new parent figure. Cut your stepson or stepdaughter some slack, and listen to them.
• Your stepson or stepdaughter may be growing in their trust, connection and love for you, but feel that by doing so they are being disloyal to the parent in the other home. You can help to resolve this tension by honoring their relationship with that parent, and not contributing in any way to the conflict. Beware of trying to compete with that parent; know that your child will be most served by having healthy relationships with all the parents in their lives.
• As much as you might wish to be seen as, or loved as, your stepson’s or stepdaughter’s parent, the maxim that “blood is thicker than water” will always hold. In fact, it will even hold when you are better at parenting, care more about your stepchild, do more for, and spend more time with your stepson or stepdaughter, than the parent does. Remembering this as the “bottom-line” will be a great foundation for you as a stepparent.
• Lastly, get to know your stepson or stepdaughter. Meet them on their level – do things with them that they like. Learn about their interests. Acknowledge what you appreciate about him or her, and honor their uniqueness. You will give your stepchild a huge gift by letting him or her know you accept them for who they are, and don’t expect them to become someone they are not. Accentuate the positive!
It takes a good deal of maturity and a big heart to be the adult in a step relationship. Becoming educated about what to watch out for is one part of the solution. Add good communication skills and a positive approach. The rest of the formula for success includes a pile of patience, a touch of tolerance, and a magnanimous heart! But once you have developed a step relationship that feels comfortable and harmonious, the satisfaction is enormous – and is worth all the effort.