How to get along with a step child

STEP-PARENTING ADVICE

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What to expect as a step mother?

There is this stigma around step parenting which makes it worse than it could be. All step parents need not turn out to be wicked neither step children like little devils. In the last few years, divorce rate has increased in all societies, hence it is not as rare as before to be a blended family. It is important to get along with your step child for the harmonious existence of your family. Becoming a step mother can be very challenging, as well as rewarding towards the end. It is also overwhelming for the children involved.

Do not expect it to be a smooth ride where you can spend long days together with your would be step child and husband, be at your best and get along with the child. In most circumstances that is not going to be a natural eventuality. In fact that will keep your expectations very high and make it difficult for you to cope with your emotions. Hence expect it to be rough in the beginning with the step child feeling insecure around you, finding you a competition, disrespecting you from time to time, comparing you with her own mother and grieving the loss of his/her mother either through divorce or death.

Getting over the initial reluctance of the child…

  • The most helpful idea is that do not try to spend a lot of time together and win the child’s heart. This creates a lot of pressure on the child to get to like you and approve of you. It is a natural long process and allow the child to go with his/her own pace of growing fond of you. Spend short quality time. This would decrease the chances of rejection and help you cope with the reluctance of the child. Do not try to spoil the child with too many goodies or trips. Take it slow.
  • Talk about the child’s mother and assure her/him that you are only looking at being an extra adult who cares about the child. You want to develop friendship and not become a parent.
  • Assuring the child that their father loves him/her and talks about the positive information shared by the father would help. This step will help the child feel the presence of all parents and not look at you as a replacement.
  • Get to know the child better and look for common interests. Spend some time regularly doing some sport/dance/hobby that you might like as well.
  • Do not propose remarriage that takes time.
  • Respect them even when they disrespect you. This is a good modelling exercise as they would eventually pick your behavior. At the same time balance it out do not pamper them when they disrespect you. They have to understand that you expect them to respect you.
  • If you see an opportunity ask them to help you out with something that they might be capable of.
  • Verbal praise always works well in the beginning do not try to get too physical.
  • Develop some rituals that you would do together, like a fixed meal together.
  • Be honest with them. Do not share everything they tell you with your would be husband. Listen to them actively and take keen interest. Trust takes time.

 

Responding to a new mom as a toddler, children below 10, teenagers?

Toddlers: This is the easiest age group as step children. They do not understand the consequences of divorce and remarriage as much as the older counterparts. They are very flexible and live for the moment. They would not be insecure with extra adult additions to the family as long as their routine and needs are taken care off. Any major changes in their daily life would unsettle them hence if you make sure their life after you are part of the family and before should be aligned. Giving them attention works the best and ignoring them would make them feel insecure. Their primary need is to feel safe and secure. You should start connecting with them emotionally genuinely.

Children below 10 years: They also would be more acceptable towards you compared to their older counterparts. They like strong family bonds. Ultimately it is most important to make sure their daily needs are met and, like said before, their activities, family rituals are not very different compared to the time before you had stepped in. They would compete a lot for the attention of their biological parent hence, there has to be periodic attention showered. They should also get enough alone time with their biological parent. Making sure there are no custody fights or back biting of the parent they do not live with will help them through the transition. They need reassurance that you are a bonus parent and not a replacement of their biological mother. They also need reassurance that their father loves them a lot.

Adolescents and Teens: They have the hardest time accepting a new adult in the family. They need to be given more time than you would give to the other age groups. Also it is hard for them to obey a new adult. Hence the goal would be to develop friendship with them while sharing interests and active listening. Keeping their secrets will also help them trust you while pitching in the absence of their biological parent will go a long way. The idea should be that you can support their father in parenting them while not trying to be a disciplinarian and take over as a parent. They are more accepting of you as caring adult rather than a stepmother. Make sure it is addressed right in the beginning what they would like to call you. Their alone time with their father is very important to make them feel reassured. They are not very expressive of their feelings is complex situations but at the same time they need love and attention too.

 

A perfect blended family?

  •  It is very important to have a good quality relationship with your spouse as it is the basis of everything. In a new marriage you get a lot of couple time to develop your marital life but in this case you have to be a parent right from the beginning. You have to be united in your parenting decisions. Discuss your parenting styles in advance. This would include setting boundaries and limits.
  • Communicate your expectations consistently, at the same time let the child communicate openly, and do not take it personally. It is a transition for the child and she/he would feel anxious and insecure.
  •  Spend one on one time with the child regularly. Take keen interest in his/her feelings and activities. Sharing interests like I had suggested earlier will help you blend like nothing else.
  • Create daily rituals together like a meal time where you blend as a family.
  • In case of divorce make sure that the child gets to spend time with the missing parent as well. In case of a visiting step child do not treat him like a guest make sure that he/she has their own space in the house.
  • It is very important to make sure their activities do not get hampered with the transition.
  • Share responsibilities with them and involve them in your in daily chores. This would make them feel valued.
  • Even if they do not express remember every child needs to feel safe, secured and loved. Express your genuine feelings consistently. Similarly appreciation and encouragement builds reliance and a deep lasting bond.
  • Be conscious of favoritism in case of more than one child or in case you have your own child.
  • Make rules, along with the family. One of the most important one is that conflicts should be addressed positively. Conflicts are part of all families and should be taken as a discouraging sign of a blended family.
  •  Set regular couple time apart.
  • Last but not the least it usually takes at least two years sometimes can extend till 5 to complete the transition, go slow.

 

The role of an understanding partner. What all he needs to do?

 Your partner needs to make sure that he takes his time to approach the subject of remarriage. There should be at least two years transition period in between. Further he should address children’s fears and insecurities openly and give them the undivided attention and comfort to be able to express themselves. He should not expect you to take the place o their mother. Instead he should be the primary parent and take you as a support parent. It is very important for the two of you to maintain a unified front in front of children hence he should discuss his parenting style and expectations with you clearly from time to time. He should not feel disappointed with the fact that they do not give you the same love and affection that they did to their biological mother. He should spend one on one time with them, appreciate them and encourage them. Insecurity and fear of abandonment are very important emotions to be addressed in children. He should try and keep a friendly relationship with his ex wife in case of divorce so that there are no custody issues and children go through less uncertainty. In case of death he should together with you keep their mother alive with pictures and recollecting memories. He should spend enough couple time with you in order to be able to keep the marriage intact.

 

Richa Khetawat is a trained Psychologist providing online counselling services in a professionally helping manner to facilitate transitions in life. She has over 10 years of experience helping individuals cope with managing family and relationships issues, stress and anxiety, life transitions, children parenting and adolescent issues.