No one ever grows up dreaming of someday becoming a step-parent. It is a situation that occurs because you have fallen in love with a person who has a child or children from a previous relationship. I don’t know of anyone who has ever specifically sought out potential partners because they desired the role of being a step-parent. The following are some things to keep in mind as you enter into the relationship with your new spouse’s child and try to become someone special in their lives. Undoubtedly, you intend to be in their lives for the long haul and should take the time to establish something permanent and special with him or her.
Make certain that your stepchild has their own space at your house. While you may not be able to give your stepchild their very own room, you need to at least make sure that he/she has a space that is all their own. Allow them to decorate as they want to (within limits, of course) and add the things that make them feel “at home”. We made sure that my stepdaughter has her own room, in part because of the age difference between her and her sisters, but also to give her the solitude she occasionally craves in our busy household.
Be a parent, and be a friend. It doesn’t matter how old your stepchild is when you come into their lives as an additional parent, you will need to be an authority figure. However, unlike the roles that their biological parents play, you can meet an additional need for them. You can be their friend and confidant. You can be a somewhat impartial third party that can listen to what they want to say without the child being afraid of “choosing sides”. Use caution, though, as you want to listen and provide guidance while not putting undue pressure on the child to form opinions about the relationship that his/her biological parents shared. You don’t know all of the facts (one never can in these situations) so don’t give your opinion to your stepchild. Even if they ask for it, unless they are in their late teens or adults, gently persuade them to form their own opinions by asking their biological parents for facts.
Find an activity that you and your stepchild can share, just the two of you. If you like to garden or bake, invite them to join you. If the child likes to go miniature golfing but doesn’t get to do it at their “other house”, make a tradition of taking them and enjoy and afternoon out together. Making these memories and giving your stepchild a reason to look forward to seeing you will help them see you as someone special in their lives, not just another parent telling them what to do or not to.
If the other parent is in the child’s life at all, you will have a difficult time on occasion, if not with every encounter. Always be civil, even if they are not civil to you. If you can’t be civil (sometimes you just can’t be), then either don’t be present at the child exchange, or sit quietly out of the way until the exchange is made. It does your stepchild no good at all to see you involved in the battle that his/her parents are involved in. The child needs to know that while you love your spouse (their biological parent), you are not going to get involved in the divorce itself. The fight wasn’t yours, only the responsibility for your stepchild should matter. Believe me, kids see this. They know that you are a safe person to talk to and have fun with if you stay out of the fight.
Lots of Love
Love your spouse openly. Children, whether they are stepchildren or biological children, need to see that their parents love each other and enjoy each other. It gives them a tremendous sense of security. Even if your stepchild didn’t see big fights or other ugliness between their biological parents, they still know that love was lost along the way. By showing your stepchild how much you love their parent, you are showing them that you love part of them as well.
If you have other children, whether they are from a previous marriage or the one you are in now, make sure that you include your stepchild in events that include all of the children. It is so important for your children to see that your stepchild is their sibling. Allow them to play together and get to know each other. Within reason, let them fight and try to resolve it. All siblings fight from time to time and it is the resolution of the conflicts that brings them closer together as brothers and sisters. Get them involved in activities and create family traditions that will give them special memories to cherish as they grow up, especially if your stepchild lives most of the year away from you and your spouse.