By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

Becoming a stepparent can be an exciting and fulfilling time. For some who have never had kids of their own, it becomes an opportunity to share your life with someone new and help shape their character. In some cases, new family members get along without a problem. However, there are sometimes bumps in the road. 

Figuring out how to navigate this new role can be challenging. Aside from the day-to-day responsibilities, there can also be confusion or even conflict between you and your partner, your partner’s ex, and their kids. Although there is no formula for creating the “perfect’ family, it’s important to approach this situation with patience and understanding. Noeder (2018) outlines some tips to help adapt to your new role.

  • Start Slow

Although you might want a close relationship right away with the stepchildren, it’s important to take things slow as relationships need time to grow. Try letting things develop naturally, as kids can often tell when adults are being insincere. Over time, you can develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your stepchildren, although it might not necessarily resemble the one they have with their birth parents. And that’s okay!

  • Things That Affect Your Relationship

There are a variety of different factors that can impact what your relationship is like with the children. For example, this could include things such as if they are mourning the loss of a parent, or if they need time to heal and process a divorce. Other factors that can affect the transition into stepparenting include:

  • How old the kids are. Younger kids usually have an easier time adjusting to new relationships than older kids. However, something called the “sleeper effect” can happen, which means that some children might take big strides at first, but then pick up disruptive behaviors or challenging emotions years later. 
  • How long you’ve known them. Typically, the longer you know the kids, the better the relationship (there can be exceptions to that of course).
  • How long you dated the parent before marriage. Again, there can be exceptions, but typically if you take things slow with the adult and don’t rush into things, the kids have a good sense that you are in this for the long haul. 
  • How well the parent you marry gets along with the ex-spouse. This can be critical. Minimal conflict and open communication between ex-partners can make a big difference with how well the kids adjust to this new life.
  • How much time the kids spend with you. Trying to bond with kids every other weekend can be difficult, especially when they want to spend quality time with their birth parent. It’s important to remember to put their needs first. If they want to spend time with their birth parent, they should be able to. 
  • Steps to Great Stepparenting
  • Put needs, not wants, first. Above everything, kids need love, affection, and consistent rules. If you are constantly just giving them treats or toys, especially if they don’t deserve it, can lead to a situation in which you might be trading gifts for love.
  • House rules matter. Try keeping your house rules as consistent as possible for all kids. Although children and teens might have different rules, they should still be consistently applied. These consistent rules can help kids adjust to new changes.
  • Create new family traditions. Find special activities to do with your stepkids, taking into account their opinion. This can be things like game nights, cooking, or crafts. The key is to be having fun together, rather than trying to win their love.
  • Respect all parents. If you and your partner share custody with the birth parent, it’s important to try and be courteous and compassionate in your interactions. Never say negative things about the parent in front of the kids, this can cause them to get angry. No child likes to hear their parent criticized. 
  • Don’t use kids as messengers or go-betweens. It can be a common urge to want to question kids about what’s going on in the other household, like a “spy.” When possible, communicate directly with the other parent for things like scheduling, school problems, visitation, etc. Online calendars can be helpful for things like this!
  • Talk to your partner or spouse. It is key that you and your partner have good communication. If you’re new to parenting as a stepparent, ask your partner what the best way would be to get to know the kids. 

Get in touch with Symmetry Counseling to arrange an appointment with a dedicated therapist for couples counseling or family therapy in Chicago.

References

Noeder, M. (Ed.). (2018, July). Becoming a Stepparent.  

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/stepparent.html.