Being a step-parent or a step-child isn’t easy; in fact, they’re probably two of the toughest roles in the family dynamic. As forging relationships in a blended family doesn’t typically go well, it is important to approach it the right way. The following are some tips and advice for step-parenting.
1. Take an Interest in Their Lives
While you aren’t there to replace a parent, you can be a friend to, or at least someone who cares about, your step-children. Take an active interest in their life. Ask them about their day, their friends and their school then listen actively. If they tell you about things moment by moment, great; if they say “fine” and leave the room, that’s fine, too.
2. Don’t Change Family Dynamics
It is not easy to step in to a new family and watch your new spouse “do things wrong” as they interact with their children. However, chances are high they have been doing things in the same manner for a long time so the children, your step-children, will likely resent you if you try to make changes. To ease the transition for your new family, respect the family dynamics and the role each child plays. If the children have been in a one parent household for some time, they likely have a lot of say in what goes on. Trying to change routines and dynamics, especially when the relationships are new almost guarantees there will be hard feelings. Instead, respect the dynamic and work around it; if something needs to change, do it slowly and with everyone’s input.
3. Expect Them to Dislike You
While being hated never feels good, children will often be hateful toward their step-parent because they feel a need to “be loyal” toward their parent. Their parents have disrupted their lives, and, as a result, they often feel insecure, unloved or to blame for their family’s dissolution. They need an outlet for those feelings and chances are high that you will be that outlet and a target. If you expect to be the target, you won’t be as hurt; in fact, you will be able to be empathetic. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to deal with this backlash, realize it has little, if anything, to do with you and the pain and impact will be lessened.
4. Love Cannot Be Bought
If you want the respect of your step-children, do not attempt to buy their affection. Earn it. You can’t spoil them or give in to them and then expect them to like you or respect you. In fact, they will view you as weak, easy to manipulate and dumb. The best path to forging a great, respectful relationship with your step-children is to be firm, kind and loving.
5. Avoid Making Changes
Going through their parents’ divorce, whether it was last month or 10 years ago, and your entrance into their life are life-altering change for them. As much as possible, avoid moving them from their home, school, church or activities. As well, again inasmuch as is possible, don’t change their activities or schedules either. If you make major changes, it may cause resentment. Even small things, like asking them to eat at the table instead of in front of the television, have been known to cause resentment. Remember that your being in their life is a major change in itself so making more changes should be very limited, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Also bear in mind that you’re joining a “family-in-progress” so it’s best to keep the changes and interference to a bare minimum.