Building a relationship with your stepchild

Building a relationship with your stepchildren is no easy task and that’s alright. Remember that your marriage to their father/mother means that their hopes of their parents getting back together will not happen. They are therefore coming to terms with this new reality and may be grieving. They may also feel as if they have to compete with you for their biological parent’s attention and that you are taking away the love which used to be reserved solely for them, especially if their other biological parent had passed away.

So enter this new relationship with an understanding heart, a willingness to learn and above all lowered expectations. It might take a few years before your stepchild sees you as…well to be honest an uncle/aunt, as a new parent may never happen. But for now, you are their live-in baby sitter and that’s alright.

Based on how you approach the relationship, with time they will begin to trust and respect you; and who knows, maybe even love you.

Until then, you’re their live-in baby sitter, whose limits they will test and boundaries they will breach. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t treat them like family, because you should. As mean as they might be, remember that you are the adult and hence should always have a level head and approach each situation with understanding and care. If you don’t have children of your own, read up what to expect as a parent, the fact that you are reading this is a step in the right direction.

So what do you need to know about building a relationship with your stepchild?

1) Let them set the pace: As eager as you might be to bond with your stepchild, forcing it will only make them pull back. Give them space to come to terms with the new changes in their life and go as far as they will let you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try; ask them if you can assist with their homework, attend their school activities, listen to their opinions and take an interest in their interests. Share your interests with them as well; let them get to know you.

2) Be sensitive: If their mother/father had passed away, be sensitive and kind. Hold memorials every year and let them keep items that remind them of him/her. Remember your presence in the house, might remind them of the parent they lost and open up old wounds. If need be, you could also seek out family counselling.

If the other parent is still alive, avoid talking ill about them in the presence of and/or at ear shot of their child. This will just make them resent you more; remember kids will always feel a sense of loyalty to their biological parents. Also, don’t try to “set the record straight” about what happened between them and their mother whether or not you were to blame for their divorce, it is not your place to clear the air. They won’t be listening anyway.

Also be sure not to change any routines that are already in place, especially with younger kids. Changing it will make them feel more anxious and unsettled about everything that is already happening and might cause more resistance.

3) Encourage openness: Give your stepchild room to express their emotions. They may not come to you right away with a problem, by checking up on them and asking about their day while actually listening to what they have to say, you show them that you care.

4) Treat them like family: While you are the “live-in baby sitter” this doesn’t mean that you can’t help them with their homework, assign them chores and attend parent-teacher meetings. The goal is not to replace their biological mother/father but rather to be an additional parent to them. So support their relationship with their other parent, but also look to build one between you and your stepchild.

5) Let the parent’s discipline: At least in the first few years, let your stepchild’s biological parents do the disciplining. You can make the rules together with your spouse and as a live-in baby sitter you can re-inforce these rules on the pretext of authority given to you by the biological parents. However, should the rules be broken, let the biological parents carry out the disciplining. This give you room as the stepparent to focus more on building a relationship with your stepchild.

It’s also good to give your spouse and stepchild sometime to bond themselves without you being there. It will let your stepchild know that you are not there to take away their parent’s love but rather to add onto it.

Lastly, if you and your spouse plan to add another child into the family, be sure to prepare your stepchild for this new change. Try as much as possible not to let it affect the family dynamic, or if it does, let it be to strengthen it. Inform your stepchild , about their expected new sibling and give them room to adjust. Above all, don’t expect your stepchild to be willing to share their clothes, toys or room with their new sibling so make room for the new arrival and buy them their own stuff where possible.

Are you a stepparent? What was your experience like? Kindly share any parenting tips you might have on our Facebook or Twitter pages

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