Establishing a relationship with the step kids in your blended family

You and your wife have merged your two families into one big happy blended family. Okay, so maybe the happy part has not yet taken up permanent residence, but be patient. Things worth doing well, things worth achieving, like being a step father who makes a difference in the lives of his step kids, usually take time.

Guidelines for step fathers

You and your new wife know the kind of man you are, and the fact that you are willing to take on the responsibility of helping to raise children who are not your own says a lot about you. To be frank, your step kids are maybe not so easily impressed, leaving it up to you to earn their acceptance as a step father and trusted member of their blended family. Here are some helpful suggestions:

  1. Be patient waiting for your new step child to respond to you in a positive way. Understand that he or she may still be mourning the loss of their primary family unit, and may be feeling strange about forming a new relationship with you. It may take time for your step kids to view you as a positive addition to their lives.
  2. Spend time with your step child in activities like school projects and sports or club events. The more you are involved, the sooner your step child is likely to accept you as part of his or her life. Avoid playing favorites between your own bio kids and your step kids. They are both part of your family now, and inequality in your commitment of time, money, or affection would be grossly unfair.
  3. Invite your step kids to join you in some of your activities. Whether you enjoy golfing, fishing, or visiting auto museums, invite your step kids along. This not only gives their mother a break, but gives the kids a close-up view of who you are. If, however, your step kids decline to join you in any of your interests, refrain from pushing and keep looking for an activity you can share.
  4. Communicate calmly and clearly. Be available to talk, to listen, and be open minded to the many differences between you and your step kids, or between you and their biological father. Never let the only interaction you have with your step child on any given day be a negative one. Keep negative feelings you may have formed about his or her biological dad to yourself, and never argue with their mother in front of them.
  5. Respect private space. Unless you have serious concerns about dangerous behavior or activities, give your step kids as much privacy and independence as they can handle; the more trust you exhibit, the more trusted they feel.
  6. Respect the parenting ground rules established by your step family spouse, and hold any discussions about modifying those rules in private. Always check with their mother before involving your step kids in a potentially dangerous or problematic activity. Come to a mutual agreement on an ethical code and behavioral standards for your blended family.
  7. Be involved in planning the future or your step kids. Talk with their mother to work out financial aspects, and recognize that you may be the one to open a savings account for schooling and perhaps a first car, and to help find that first job.
  8. Be a good example for your step kids. Smoking, excessive drinking, the use of recreational drugs, or conflicts with law enforcement have no place in a home with children who learn behaviors modeled by the adults in their lives. When you chose to marry a woman with children, you also volunteered to become a role model for them, so step up!
  9. Accept your role as blended family team leader. Step fathers are expected to understand the rules of the game, possess the skills necessary for a respectable performance, and know how to help your team members make the most of their personal abilities and limitations. In blended family life as in sports, working together as a team gets the best results.
  10. Notice what is cool about them, and brag on your step kids the way you brag about your own biological kids. Take familial pride in whatever skills or talents they have, and if they happen to overhear a sincere comment, so much the better. Try not to be too obvious.

Step fathers can be real parents, too

From time to time, your step kids may tempestuously remind you that you are not, in fact, their REAL dad. Strange as it may seem, this statement more often reflects the internal struggle the step child is having than your presumed attempt to take over parenting authority.  A good response is to agree you are not their real father, but to remind them that because you love their mother, you also love the parts of her you see in them and want what is best for them. Reassure your step kids you are not there to replace their dad, but are more like a pinch-runner on base this inning. You can be a real parent without being a real dad. If you need more assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center.