There is one thing that we see more and more in families these days. It’s actually been around for the better part of the last half century, so it’s pretty normal: it’s all about blended families. I don’t think there’s a stepfather, stepson, or stepdaughter who thinks it’s a perfect situation. The reality is that it is far from perfect and requires quite a bit of work and commitment to get it working, and then even more work to keep it going.
So when you find yourself in the situation of being a stepparent, what is going to work to build a relationship with your partner’s children? Well, that depends on several factors. This is not the subject of this article: dealing with all those many factors.
I would like to share with you one something I learned recently that makes a lot of sense and actually works.
It implies that the stepfather does not “become” a mom or dad to the stepson or stepdaughter, but simply be their friend; being someone who is not intrusive and who is able to nurture and build on trust, creating an environment of mutual respect – this is friendshipin a short word.
Some might say, “How can I be friends with a child or a teenager?” For some, this does not compute. I want to suggest that if you want to be successful in your relationship with your partner, investing time and positive effort in your children is a very good idea. Befriending them is a safe, low-risk way to success. Kids can smell a liar from a mile away, so do it as genuinely, sincerely, and lovingly as you can. Think about it and try it a lot, and seek the advice and support of your partner.
Love cannot be forced. You can’t just “love” them instantly; it does not work like that. You cannot expect too much of yourself in terms of having an intrinsic love for your stepson; and your partner can’t wait too long either. It would be downright unfair to expect a child or teen to suddenly love a stepparent. This kind of love takes years. Possibly, if you entered the relationship early enough in your stepchild’s life, say while they were still a baby or toddler (below school age), you may have had the history and time to develop that love.
One day at a time, work to earn their trust and respect. This does not make you inferior to them; it makes you their ally and advocate, someone they can trust in their hour of need. Earning their trust and respect also means that you dispel any issues they may have with you and they won’t see you as a threat. If you love your stepchild’s mom or dad, the only other barrier is how you treat the child or one of his or her siblings. Trust and respect go a long way in building loving relationships. Trust and respect are key risk management tools for relationships. Remember, trust and respect, don’t work without love.
Some brief tips:
Are you putting in the kind of time, effort, and commitment to build a loving relationship with your stepchild? Are you calm that you are doing everything possible for both of them to get there? It is not too late if the answer is ‘no’ to these two questions. When you mess up, she bravely apologizes and starts over.
Finally, it is very important to support your partner in the task of raising their children. Although disciplining children should be the responsibility of your partner (as the intrinsically trustworthy parent), you can be a listening ear and silent support. By support I mean helping them do their job as single parents. Sometimes this means putting your own needs on the back burner.
Being a friend to a child is knowing God’s blessing.
© Steve J. Wickham, 2008. All rights reserved worldwide.