By Elizabeth Shields / Guest Contributor
Being a step-parent can be both exciting and scary. You have so much love to give but don’t want to make them feel like you’re replacing their mom or dad. It’s complicated but one that’s absolutely worth it.
While no manual can guarantee success when building any relationship, some tips may help create a meaningful one with your stepchildren. Here are some excellent examples.
5 Tips for Fostering Good Relationships with Stepchildren
1) Take it slow and give them their space.
Welcoming someone new into the family can be extremely overwhelming for stepchildren. They can feel a rollercoaster of emotions and are often confused about what they should feel or make of the situation. The best that you can do is accept and respect that it will take time for them to unpack and process everything. Be patient and be careful not to rush anything as this can impact their mental health. Instead, ease your way into their life little by little, making a sincere effort to get to know your stepchildren. Always take their cue and do not impose yourself on them. Take a step back and give them space whenever things get too much for them.
2) Be a friend first, not a parent.
Sometimes children get upset about the idea of having a stepmom or stepdad because they feel that someone else is taking the place of their biological parent. If they’ve gone through a rough divorce, they may also have developed resentment and distrust for their parents. Build a good foundation by offering friendship first. Prove to your stepchild that you genuinely care and that you are someone they can trust.
3) Let the biological parent deal with discipline.
Thanks to Snow White’s evil stepmother, stepparents always get a bad rap. The last thing you need is to become the villain in your stepchildren’s story. That said, it’s crucial to establish your own boundaries when it comes to complicated issues that should be handled by the biological parents, including how to discipline the children. If you’re living under the same roof, set up reasonable house rules that are agreeable for everyone. Make sure to involve them in the process. This way, the child will be aware of the corresponding consequences of their actions.
4) Make them feel seen and that they belong.
Perhaps one of the biggest worries of a child upon seeing their parent with a new partner is that they’re automatically out of the picture. They feel left out in the new life that is being built before them, especially if the other party also has kids or a new baby is on the way. That’s why it’s super important to go the extra mile to ensure that your stepchildren feel they are part of the family.
Here are a few tips to consider:
- Go on a family outing once in a while to lighten everyone’s mood. Start with a simple picnic at the park or a day at the beach before booking flights or going on long trips, which can be stressful for everyone.
- Always show up when they invite you to a school play, recital, or soccer game. If not, you can always express you’d love to come but remember to respect their decision if things don’t go your way.
- Give them age-appropriate responsibilities. Ask them or your partner what chores they’re used to doing in their old home or would be okay doing now. This may be as simple as cleaning their own bedroom, vacuuming the floors, keeping their closets organized, or watering the plants for the little ones.
5) Keep communication open and loving with your partner.
Navigating your relationship with your stepchildren can also strain you and your spouse. Prevent this from happening by maintaining healthy communication with each other. Respect their role as biological parent and be careful not to overstep or impose. Let them know how you feel— when you’re happy, hopeful, hurt, frustrated, or helpless —and give them an idea of how they can support you. Seek a family therapist to get an expert’s guidance on how to overcome challenges and strengthen your relationship as a couple and a blended family.