Forming a bond with step children can be tough but being a stepparent is a role that over 50 million Americans will experience at some point in their lives. Most start their journey filled with hope and excitement. For some individuals, the feelings of anxiety and inadequacy soon set in and the role becomes obligatory and daunting. Being in a blended family means your life will be filled with transition, inconsistencies and possible opposition from your stepchildren and their biological parents. In fact, the vast majority of my Coaching Clients hire me because they are faced with mounting stress in their family situations and they cannot seem to find the path back to peace.
Building a bond with a stepchild can cause the most confident individual to feel insecure. These children probably already have two loving biological parents. These parents may welcome you with open arms, but that does not mean the child will be as accepting. At a minimum, a stepparents’ role is to be a support person while their partner parents their child. There is no cookie-cutter family and there are certainly no rigid rules.
If you’re a stepparent that actually cares, you may find yourself wondering:
Does my stepchild like me? Is their other parent teaching them to hate me? How do I build a relationship with this kid!?!
Below are a few general ways for you to create a bond with stepkids:
1. Put inclusive photos all around your home. Allow the child to visualize herself alongside you and your partner in happy family moments. Hang photos of fun times with everyone in your household all over the walls. I personally do this and I find that my stepchildren love to glance at our family moments. Feeling excluded is a major complaint from adult stepkids, so take heed and be sure to allow your stepkids to feel at home.
2. When visitation is over, send her back with a few memory photos or an album during extended visits. Write captions under each photo and make the exercise a scrapbooking moment for the children. Not only will they have the pictures as a keepsake, but they will also hold the memories of your family activity.
3. Develop your own traditions. Do things that are exclusive to your household. No two households are alike so you should definitely implement your own way of doing things. When my husband picks up my stepchildren, there’s a special song that he and the kids sing along together. This gets them in the mindset to get ready to enjoy daddy time. A tradition does not have to be a grandiose gesture.
4. Have a family movie night. Alternate who gets to pick the movie. This builds anticipation and it shows the children that they are free to make choices in your home. It also shows them some of your interests. Later in life, they’ll have points of reference and remember the moments they spent with you.
5. Allow your stepchildren to spend a lot of alone time with their dad. This gives you a break and it shows them that they are not in competition with you for dad’s time and attention.
5. Spoil them a little. It’s fun fussing over kids that you don’t get to spend much time with. I remember my Great Aunt who fussed over me! When I went to visit her she always bought the food I didn’t eat at my parent’s house! She made me feel very special and to this very day, I have fond memories of her fussing over me.
6. It may be tough to connect with stepkids at first so take on the role of a babysitter or fun aunt, not an authoritative parent. Establish that you’re still an adult that commands respect though. Also make sure that your partner reaffirms your role.
7. Have your partner give your stepchild permission to give and receive love from you. This may not release the child from any ‘unfair’ loyalty binds from their other parent, but at least they will feel safe in your home.
Finally, just relax and have fun. Remember, you’re not auditioning for a role and there’s no pressure. You got this!