Enduring Relationships with Stepkids
by Louise Hajjar Diamond
married always presents adjustments for the wife, husband and their
extended families. Marrying into an already existing family structure
introduces additional challenges and adjustment for everyone involved.
Newlyweds may not enjoy the same privacy and bonding time that childless
couples experience. Stepparents will have instant roles and new relationships
with possibly confused or resentful children.
With the proper blend of patience, communication, and support from
your spouse, being a stepparent can be a rewarding and positive adventure.
Here are some tips for easing the transition and building and maintaining
healthy relationships with your stepchildren.
GIVE IT TIME
Depending on the situation and age, children may take a long time
to accept a stepparent. Teens may take even longer than children under
eight. Adolescents may already be struggling with all the adult relationships
in their lives. They may also be experiencing things that have nothing
to do with the new stepparent. Being too eager to force a relationship
Giving kids time to get used to you may prove beneficial over time.
“The greatest chance to be a positive influence can only be
achieved through patient bonding,” advises John Patrick Jacobson,
a stepfather of two teenaged children and founder of website, Stepfathers.com.
Your spouse plays a vital role in helping kids and stepparents build
a positive relationship. Tad Benson, a stepdad of a six-year-old boy
and founder of Stepdads.com warns that sometimes “Moms tend
to try and force it and make everything all right, but it won’t
pay off in the long run.”
Benson maintains, rather than rush the relationship, “it will
take time and it needs to be built on mutual trust and acceptance.”
He states, “your goal initially is to survive.” Based
on his experience, Benson adds, “as long as everyone is mutually
respected and there’s love abounding, you should strive to create
your own relationship and family dynamics.”
Benson warns that, “stepdads need to see themselves as stepdads,
not biological dads.” Though this may be difficult to accept
when you are eager to forge new relationships with stepkids, but Benson
feels this belief will help to build a better foundation. A new, special
bond will most likely develop naturally over time.
According to a recent poll completed by stepdads, conversation is
the best way to connect with stepchildren. This is followed by activities
of mutual interest such as computer games and sports.
Stepparents may make progress building relationships with stepchildren
by trying to be a loving relative, instead of a parent. Understand
that the child may feel threatened and concerned about their place
in the family. Children may worry about their relationship with your
spouse, their parent
Benson comments, “the thing that worked best for me and our
family was that I had an outlook that framed all of my interactions.”
In his experience with his stepson, Benson says, “I look at
him as an individual, a family member, a loved one that I am helping
raise, to mentor, to love, and a friend and a parent when appropriate.”
He suggests providing a stepchild with a “sanctuary of love”
Whether your stepchildren are living with you or just are frequent
visitors, chances are as a stepparent, you will need to take care
of at least some of the discipline. Benson states, “the important
thing to remember is that the stepparent still needs to set boundaries
and be firm” while being there to reinforce your spouse and
your stepchild’s other natural parent. “Rushing in to
be the disciplinarian can undermine the initial trust,” notes
“Over time and once trust is built, experts seem to suggest
that stepparents can take a more central role in discipline,”
Benson comments on the research he’s done on his website.
Jacobson suggests that stepparents “can increase the chance
of success in their families if they tread lightly when it comes to
discipline." He warns not to force the kids to call you "Mom"
or “Dad.” He continues, “Think of yourself as your
spouse’s helpmate and the children’s mentor.”
Jacobson says the golden rule of stepparenting is:
You can have input, but behind the scenes is best, not in front of
NO SET RULES
The rules of steparenthood are always arbitrary. As with all family
structures, there is no set formula that works for all families or
relationships. Stepparents may even have different relationships with
each child in the family depending on the child’s needs.
If the natural parent of your stepchildren is still involved, it may
be best to take a less parental role. If the biological parent is
deceased or otherwise not involved, stepparents may need and decide
to take more active roles once a foundation of mutual trust is established.
Taking on the full parental role must first be all right with the
surviving natural parent and the kids in order to be successful. It
may also be a long process that evolves over time and may be in the
best interest of everyone involved.
Jacobson notes, “a stepdad has to mold himself around the family
he enters.” He maintains that if the biological dad remains
the chief mentor and patriarchal decision-maker, then the stepdad
has to take a backseat in this regard.
Stepparents have become a valuable and vital part of many American
families. There are many resources available for stepparents on the
web. Log on to the following websites for more information:
Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, freelance writer, and mother
of two. To reprint this article contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.