When you fall in love with someone that has kids, there’s an extra challenge added into the marriage. How do you connect and possibly love your new stepchildren? While most newlyweds have at least a year or two to get to know each other as husband and wife before they start a family together, your marriage comes with kids in tow. Although this will be challenging, it’s something you can manage if you have the right expectations and are willing to work for the results you want.
Here’s some tips that helped me and my husband navigate our first few years together as stepparents:
1. Realize that not everybody loves their stepchildren right away, and that’s ok! You and the kids need to get to know each other and build your relationship slowly. Love is not an automatic response for most people. You may not feel love for a long time, but you can act in a loving, kind manner like you want to be treated.
2. Set your expectations low. Kids usually need to form new relationships slowly. Especially when they will likely be worried you might be replacing their other parent. Your remarriage can also shatter their hope of their parents ever reconciling which can be a huge blow to a child. They may also lash out and try to pull you and their parent apart, thinking that might put things back to the way they used to be. Try to give them space and not take it personally.
3. Let the kids talk about their other parent. They should feel open to share stories about them and have pictures in their room. When they come back from visits with their other parent, ask them about it. Let them share interesting things going on in their lives from both houses. If their other parent has died, find a way to help the kids remember them. Have a special memorial celebration each year or bring out their home movies from when they were younger and that parent was with them.
4. Be a cheerleader and friend. Don’t force a relationship on your stepchildren. Be available to talk, offer to hang out and play games. Find out what their interests are, learn about them and be able to carry on conversations about what they are into. Be excited for them when they do something great. Attend their sporting events, concerts, and other activities and cheer them on. Frequent but short positive interaction is a great way to strengthen a relationship.
5. Be an active listener and show them that you can be trusted to keep private information private. Try to be non-judgmental. Seek to understand them and where they are coming from. Read more great listening tips at: 5 Easy Ways to be a Better Listener
6. When building trust, they need be comfortable with you before they are going to open up or be willing to take advice from you. Unsolicited advice is always seen as criticism. It’s not your role right now to give them advice. Let their bioparents take care of that.
7. As spouses, encourage each other to spend alone time with your biological children. The kids want to know that you, their parent, still care about them and want to spend time with them. They need to know that they were not replaced by your new spouse. One on one time helps them keep their bond strong and their resentment for the stepparent lowered.
8. Allow your stepchildren to call you by a name that they and you feel comfortable with. Discuss it with your spouse and the kids. Maybe they will want to call you Mom or Dad right away, but most likely they will feel more comfortable with a nickname or your first name.
9. Serve your stepchildren and your spouse. Be willing to drive them places, do their dishes chore when they seem extra busy, help with homework, bring home a yummy treat, anything you can see that would help them out or be a nice surprise. Service without expectation of anything in return can grow their love and yours faster than anything else.
10. Try not to take their snide remarks, glares, and cold shoulders personally. Most likely they are not attacking you specifically. They would act this way with anyone that became their stepparent. Unfortunately, they likely put your actions under a larger microscope than anyone else. Especially for the first couple of years, they are likely analyzing every little thing to figure out what kind of stepparent you are going to be. Try to let their comments roll off your back. It’s going to be hard, but will ease up over time.
11. If you are the bioparent, notice if your kids are being disrespectful of your spouse and call them out on it. Remember, your spouse isn’t supposed to discipline the kids so you’re going to have to defend your spouse and stand up for them. Remind the kids that everyone in the house deserves respect and kindness. They don’t have to love their stepparent but they do need to treat them kindly.
12. Be kind and forgiving to yourself when things don’t go the way you were hoping. Let the moment pass and try again. This can be a painfully slow process and can’t be rushed. But those moments slowly build on each other and become a chain of beautiful moments that combine to help your blended family be unified, where all can feel loved and accepted. Studies have shown that it takes about 4-7 years for blended families to gel and feel a sense of unity.
For more ideas on strengthening stepfamily relationships, these articles have some great info:
10 Ideas to Improve any Relationship
Parents.com Advice for Stepparents
Why Nurturing a Stepchild Can Be Difficult