by Kerry Hart, LLMFT
With more people finding love in second—and even third—marriages, the role of a stepparent is becoming increasingly common. Although stepparenthood can be intimidating to navigate at first, it’s truly a rare opportunity to play a momentous role in a child’s life. Cultivating a healthy bond with your stepchildren only requires you to be open, honest and sometimes tactful.
Get to know their interests.
Participate in activities your stepchild enjoys. Learning what they are passionate about shows an active interest in building a sincere relationship with them. Keep in mind this process is a two-way street, so sharing your own interests is also vital. Perhaps your stepdaughter is a budding gymnast, and you happen to have been an ace on the balance beam in your younger years; this is a perfect opportunity to bond over a mutually loved activity.
Ask about their day.
Showing an interest in your stepkids’ lives goes a long way. Get specific—ask about their friends, what they did at recess or who their favorite teacher is and why. Inquiring about the social pieces of their day creates a natural dialogue between the two of you. Another benefit? You will get to know them better.
Treat them like family.
Stepchildren often travel between homes to allow quality time with both parents. Upon the child’s return to your home, you may feel that making a big fuss over them will make them feel special and welcome. While it may at first, the long-term effects of this will make them feel like a guest in their own home. Be sure to treat them as you would your own children—have them participate in household chores, check in on their homework and hold them responsible for mishaps. If you celebrate different holidays or family traditions from your spouse, be sure to include your stepchilden in the festivities.
Allow time with their parent.
What stepchildren need most is reassurance that they will always be number one in their parent’s eyes. Encourage your spouse to set a regular date with their child so they can get in much needed one-on-one time. Perhaps that means a movie date, regular mani-pedis or father and son signing up for Boy Scouts.
Know your role.
Any discipline should be carried out by the biological parent. If you are being disrespected, it is certainly okay to let the child know that type of behavior is not acceptable, but let their parent dish out the consequences. Your role is not to be a third parent, but rather a supportive adult in their life. You may be able to offer guidance their parents can’t provide; this should be in terms of the friendship you develop with them.
Keep in mind that while this may be an adjustment for you, it is an even bigger adjustment for your stepchild. Be sure to pay attention and take your cues from the kids. If they are comfortable with you, they will let you know. If they are uncomfortable, let them know you are here to support them, then back off and trust they will let you in when they are ready. Things may be tough at first, but eventually your stepchild will see the effort you are putting forth and will meet you halfway.
Kerry Hart, LMFT