Step parenting 101

Of all the relationships in a blended family, step parents and step kids seem to have the hardest time adapting to their new roles. This makes sense; step parents want to fit in, be accepted, and have a positive impact on their step kids. But they don’t know where to start. Step kids want things to be good, too, but are often so conflicted about their parent’s remarriage – which from their point of view is just one more unwelcome change in their lives – that they reject any and all well-intentioned approaches the step parent tries. It does make sense.

What step parents want

As a step parent, your intentions are the very best. You want to get to know and like your step kids, you want them to get to know and to like you. You want to be accepted as part of the loving circle your spouse has formed with his or her children. You want to please your spouse. You want this blended family to work. You want your new marriage to be successful.

What step kids want

Generally speaking, what children of divorce want is to have things back to normal. What children in a blended family want, generally speaking, is to have things back to normal. The very presence of a step parent means that things will never get back to normal, placing him or her directly in the line of fire for a disappointed, frightened, or angry child. Not yet having the skills to deal with these negative feelings, step kids often act out to show their unhappiness and their sense of loss.

What step parents can do

Develop empathy for your step kids as they adapt to the additional changes in their lives brought about by the formation of your blended family. Understand where your step kids are developmentally, and know their capabilities. Respect the loyalty your step kids feel toward their other parent, and know that even admitting they like you might be hard for them.  Never criticize or mock the other parent, but show your support of their continued relationship with their other parent.

Time is on your side

Chances are, you and your step kids will not bond, or even like each other very much, for a while. Try not to take it personally; you both have a lot to learn about each other. Take small steps. Find out what interests you have in common, and make small advances toward mutual discussions or activities. When going around town on errands, take your step kids along, just you and them, once in a while. Just as spending quality time with your bio kids is important, so it is in building a relationship with step kids. When you do things together, you create shared memories. Shared memories are the seeds of lasting relationships.

Define your relationship with your step kids

It is tempting as a new step parent to try to take on more than is realistic. Your step kids presumably already have two parents, and do not need another; they already have friends; they already have people in their lives who criticize and judge. What kids generally need most from the adults in their lives is unconditional support and encouragement. You can encourage and support a good relationship between them and their parents. You can encourage and support a good relationship between them and their step siblings. When you focus your energies on supporting them and their needs, you automatically encourage and support a strong relationship with you as step parent and everyone is discouraged.

Above all, take things slowly with your step kids. Never try to replace a parent or be the primary disciplinarian. Instead, take all the time you and your step kids need to feel comfortable with each other—and know that it can take as long as two years, or even longer. In the beginning stages, a blended family is rife with anxiety and discontentment. Do not be discouraged, but make sure your step kids see your unconditional support and unfailing loving kindness in all your interactions with them. It is worth the effort – for all of you.