Improving your relationship with stepchildren is one of the greatest challenges of forming a stepfamily. Use the following suggestions to help you to be intentional about slowly building your relationships:
1. Do not expect that you or your stepchildren will magically cherish all your time together. Stepchildren often feel confused about new family relationships—both welcoming and resenting the changes new people bring to their life. So give them space and time to work through their emotions.
2. Give yourself permission to not be completely accepted by them. Their acceptance of you is often more about wanting to remain in contact with their biological parents than it is an acceptance or rejection of you. This realization will help you to de-personalize their apparent rejections.
3. Give your stepchildren time away from you, preferably with their biological parent. The exclusive time stepchildren had with their biological parent before he or she married you came to a screeching halt after the wedding. Honoring your stepchildren by occasionally giving back this exclusive time in one or two hour increments.
4. Early on, monitor your stepchildren’s activities. Know what they are doing at school, church, and in extracurricular activities, and make it your aim to be a part. Take them to soccer practice, ask about the math test they studied for, and help them to learn their lines in the school play. Monitoring seeks to balance interest in the child without coming on too strong. (From Stepfamilies: Love, marriage, and parenting in the first decade, J Bray, New York: Broadway Books, 1998)
5. Until they feel comfortable with you, buffer your relationship with other people. Be involved with stepchildren when another family member can be present. This “group” family activity reduces the anxiety children feel with one-on-one time with a stepparent.
Adults frequently assume that the way to get to know their stepchildren is to spend personal, exclusive time with them. This may be true with some stepchildren; however, most stepchildren prefer to not be thrown into that kind of situation until they have had time to grow comfortable with the stepparent. Honor that feeling until the child makes it obvious that he or she is okay with one-on-one time.
6. Share your talents, skills, and interests with the child and become curious about theirs. If you know how to play the guitar and a stepchild is interested, take time to show him how. If the child is interested in a particular series of books or a video game, become interested and ask her to tell you about it.
These shared interests become points of connection that strengthen trust between stepparent and stepchild. Sharing the Lord through dialogue, music, or church activity is another tremendous source of connection. For example, service projects are wonderful activities for parents and stepparents to experience together. Little brings people together like serving others in the name of the Lord. Discussing values through the eyes of Christ and having family devotional time can also strengthen your relationship.
© 2008 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.