As a stepmom to four daughters and a biological mom to one, I understand first-hand how challenging it can be to blend into an established family. If done with a kind heart, patience, and respect, the transition can be an easy one. Always keep in mind the most important element in raising stepchildren successfully: to start from a selfless place. Each of these tips arose from my wanting the best for my stepchildren. The result has been a family unit that serves all of our needs, myself included.
1. Be more like an aunt or uncle first and a stepparent later.
Approach the beginning of the relationship as you would if you were the aunt or uncle. Do fun things with them that might be outside of the scope of their biological parents. Since your stepchild’s biological parents are handling the operations side, you have the unique opportunity to be the fun one. This mindset should continue (within reason – don’t go overboard) for several months until you have earned their trust, they understand you are not there as a third operational parent, and they have grown to love and respect you as a member of the family. Once those feelings have been established, ease slowly into more parental activities like discipline.
2. Respect the ex.
It’s easy to commiserate with your partner about their ex and to internalize those negative feelings your spouse has, making them your own. Not only are you protective of your partner, but you’re still all too aware of your feelings of jealousy that surround that relationship and the caring that led to the creation of a child. Regardless, you are a grownup and most importantly, a role model. Never speak or act negatively about the biological parent. Any negativity in front of the child will backfire on you, if not in the short-run, most assuredly in the long-run. And it will hurt your stepchild.
3. Nourish your relationship with your spouse above all else.
Your stepchildren will view how your spouse treats you and act accordingly. They will also use your relationship as a guideline for their own when they get older. The emotional health of the family is a direct reflection of the emotional health of the parental relationship. This is a guiding principle that transcends all relationships where children are involved. However, you are in a unique position where yours may be viewed with more scrutiny because you are not the biological parent. Just as in business, how management behaves trickles down to the employees. So be affectionate, loving and most of all – be respectful.
4. Give kids alone-time with your spouse, and you, too.
Your partner’s children have been used to spending most of their time solely with him or her. The sudden shift from coming home to Mommy or Daddy every afternoon, to coming home to Mommy and that man or Daddy and that lady is a huge life change and one that can be met with opposition. Make sure you are providing your stepchildren with the opportunity to spend time alone with their parent – your spouse. Use this time as an opportunity to focus on you. Connect with friends. Visit family. Go to dinner with the girls or guys. Your stepchildren and spouse need time together, regardless of what your partner says. This is especially important during the beginning of the relationship as you begin to become a part of their lives.
The other piece of this equation rests in the importance of you bonding individually with your stepchildren. Just as they need time with their parent, it is important for them to have one-on-one time with you. Once introduced to the children, your spouse will likely be anxious about your feelings moving forward. The anxiety centers around the concern that you will choose not to accept the full responsibility of being in the relationship. This fear leads the biological parent, your spouse, to oftentimes be overprotective of not only them, but you as well. Because of these feelings of insecurity, when you are all together as a family unit you will not be able to act as naturally with them as you would if it was only you in the room. The time does not have to be profoundly long or wildly entertaining. It simply needs to be quality time where you all can get to know one another without the watchful eye of your spouse.
This alone-time will also serve your pouse well. Being consumed with the worry of losing the person they are in love with because of the responsibility
of day-to-day life with children can be all-consuming. The break will be refreshing for everyone.
5. Pave your own unique path.
Establish traditions, activities, and sayings that are unique to you and your newly blended family. They can be borrowed from your past, your friends, or something fantastic you once saw in a movie. Whatever the origin, make them something you share with your stepchildren and your spouse. It will make your family closer and give the kids fond memories of the special moments you all shared – memories to carry throughout their lives.
6. And here’s one more that just might grow on you: Let the kids name you.
Stepmom or Stepdad can seem so stale and for some children, can have a negative connotation. Let your stepchildren come up with their own nickname for you. We tried Mocky (Mom + Becky) for a while, but it didn’t stick. Now, my stepchildren call me Reee-Becky and I call them my Love Babies. For the record, our new little one is Bio-baby. It helps them feel included, removes the stepparent stigma, and gives them more emotional ownership over your relationship.