Taking on the role of a stepparent can be challenging. In many ways, it is a learning process because stepparents are entering the picture because things didn’t work out with the biological parents. Depending on the parents’ relationship, the role of a stepparent can be stressful and, in some cases, combative.
Many stepparents grapple with questions such as:
- Where do I fit in?
- When am I allowed to voice my opinion and/or concerns?
- When am I overstepping?
- How do I develop a relationship with this child and their parent?
- What should I be interested in?
The list could go on and on because there is a lot of uncertainty, and every step-parenting situation is different. A parent may feel like a stepparent is overstepping their boundaries or doesn’t deserve as much of a say. However, adults must work things out separately and not confuse the development of their relationship with their stepchildren as having the same framework.
Even though every stepparent’s relationship is unique with their stepchildren, there are a few foundational tips you can use to create a healthy and established relationship. Each tip is laced with the need for patience – keep that in mind as you broach each tip and try it out for yourself.
Don’t put a timetable on your relationship.
The worst thing a stepparent can do is go into this newfound relationship with their stepchildren, thinking that they must be best friends within a specific amount of time. Stepparents have no idea what emotional issues the child is still dealing with because of their parent’s separation, and there is no way to truly know what a child has struggled with in their past.
Love and care take time to develop. Studies have found that children under the age of five will bond with a stepparent within one to two years; however, older children can take several years beyond that window.
Stepparents must be willing to fall down and withstand a couple of bumps along the way because kids will generally push back and resist the new relationship. The best thing an individual can do is be present and not give up. Be active in your stepchild’s activities and interests. Try to be proactive and look for ways you can be supportive without overstepping. Ask questions and be communicative with everyone within the arraignment. If the child sees that you are trying to develop a relationship with both sides/parents, they may feel less threatened by your relationship and position in the family.
Build a friendship.
Being a stepparent has many pros, one of those is being able to develop an initial friendship versus one of a disciplinarian. In most cases, children are more likely to accept a stepparent in the new role as a friend versus an authoritative role as an enforcer.
Stepparents should take the time to learn the child’s likes and dislikes, hobbies, and general personality. Seek out ways to build upon this friendship by offering to take them to do something they like, cooking their favorite meal, or participating in an activity together. Having a kind heart and showing your stepchild that you genuinely care about them will create trust, compassion, and a mutual liking for each other.
Give kids space.
Alone time is very important – especially if a child’s living environment has changed in any way. Allow your stepchild to have one on one time with their biological parents. This doesn’t mean that you should fade into the background, but it does show the child that you aren’t trying to replace anyone in their life, and you value their space. Be willing to take the lead and let your partner know that you are fine with taking the backseat so that they can have time together as well. Everyone will appreciate your willingness to put their needs first and make this an easier transition for everyone involved.
Moreover, as stepparents, it is also important to let your stepchild have their own physical space and time to process feelings and emotions. Even though children are young, they still deserve space to feel their feelings and express themselves. Try to avoid hovering when your stepchild has friends over or is having downtime. Feel out the situation and insert yourself when it is organic.
Respect everyone’s role.
Be respectful of the other parent. Even if you disagree or don’t necessarily get along with each other, it is imperative to be respectful and not allow the child to see your dislike. Your stepchild has biological parents, and you shouldn’t try to replace them; with that said, for the sake of everyone’s relationship, it is better to take the high road and choose your battles wisely.
Your stepchild will appreciate your respectful manner and will see how your actions change the dynamics of your relationship and household. Forcing your opinions on your stepchild or their biological parent(s) will only intensify the awkwardness.
Leave the disciplinary actions to the biological parents.
In the future, there will be times when you need to step in; however, in the beginning, it is not appropriate for stepparents to be the disciplinarian. Set up a list of house roles and present the consequences to everyone. You can discuss and outline what type of behavior is acceptable; however, if the stepchild doesn’t adhere, you should allow the paternal parent to take action.
Once the new family dynamics have settled in, you can have a family meeting and try to instill more of a say regarding certain situations. Idealistically, things will naturally work out, and your role will shift into being more hands-on.
Being a stepparent is challenging. Not only will you feel like you are playing a balancing act of emotions and feelings, but you will also need to work on fitting into the equation. Every stepparent situation is unique and will present its pros and cons; therefore, it is crucial that you never compare your family dynamics to someone else’s. Always be willing to be communicative with your feelings and emotions. Even though you are presented with a lot of challenges to fit in, it is important to recognize that you are not alone, and everyone is part of a puzzle. Resist putting a timetable on the situation and try to reset when you are feeling discouraged. If you are willing to put in the work, your blended family will be worth it!