Raising children is never simple, but it becomes even more complex when two families, both with children, come together to form a new family. Navigating a relationship with stepchildren can feel like walking blindfolded through a minefield, but it is possible to establish a relationship with your spouse’s children. The key is patience. It’s going to take them time to get used to the idea of you being a part of their lives, and they need to know there is still a place for them in the new family structure. Here are some things you can do to make the process easier.
Support the biological parent
It’s common for children to feel some resentment or jealousy toward a stepparent. Don’t compound those feelings by being the one to dole out consequences for misbehavior. Let your spouse handle the hard stuff, especially at first. Your job is to find out their interests and use them as a basis to become involved in their lives. As they come to realize that you are interested in them, not just your spouse, they’ll feel more comfortable that they have a place in the new family structure.
Support your spouse’s ex
You may have plenty of disagreements over how they raise and discipline their children, and your spouse may still be fighting plenty of battles, but don’t try to compete with your counterpart or, worse, try to replace them. Indeed, don’t try to be a ‘parent’ at all. Rather, think of yourself more as an adult friend or a friendly aunt or uncle. Thinking of yourself in this way will help keep you from overstepping boundaries, and honoring the biological connection will help your stepchildren feel more secure, knowing they will never feel like they have to choose between you. If they eventually view you as a parent, it will happen naturally over time.
Learn about your stepchildren’s interests
Think back to when you and your spouse first got to know each other. Chances are, you didn’t start with “I’m going to be your new significant other”. No, you took time to get to know each other and discovering common ground. You probably spent time together doing things you both enjoy. Perhaps you even spent time doing things your spouse enjoys that maybe aren’t your favorite activities. Do the same thing with your stepchildren. Try listening to their favorite music (even if it just sounds like noise to you!), watching some of their favorite movies with them, or play some of their favorite games with them.
While you need to work to establish a relationship with your stepchildren, you also need to allow them space to spend time with your spouse without you. This will reassure them that they are still number one in your spouse’s eyes, and that you honor and respect that relationship and have no intention of coming between them.
Treat your stepchildren with love, even if you don’t like them
The hard truth is, your stepchildren are not your children, and it’s normal not to feel a parental bond with them. Love isn’t just a feeling, it’s also an action. Choose to treat them with love, no matter how you feel toward them, or they toward you. Over time, you may be surprised to find that those loving actions turn into loving feelings.
Focus on the good
No one is all bad, and that includes your stepchildren and your spouse’s ex. No matter how difficult the situation, find and focus on the good. The more effort you put into focusing on the good, the more good you’ll find to focus on.
It’s not going to be easy, but I can almost guarantee, if you stick with it, it will be so worth it. If you are looking for a family therapist in Long Beach, or surrounding areas, please give me a call to get support in this journey.