This article first appeared on Divorced Moms and has been republished with permission.
Are you struggling in your relationship with your stepchildren?
Do you wish you could forge stronger ties in your stepfamily?
It is possible! Often, we as stepmoms focus on the negative behaviors in the home and how they are disrupting our family stability and building process. But what if we changed our tune and encouraged positive behaviors instead?
1. Encourage dad to spend time with his kids independent of you.
As children experience the divorce and remarriage of a parent, their most oft-repeated concern regards how it will affect them. Perhaps their custody situation will change, maybe a new school is on the agenda, or even a long-term change of address is in the future. Despite these changes, it’s important that the child’s relationship with their biological parent stay intact and does not suffer through the inevitable changes associated with the changing family dynamic.
One of the most definitive ways to ensure continuing strong bonds between the child and the parent is to establish time for them to bond alone. While you as stepmom are part of the newly created family, it is not necessary for you to take part in every child-related activity just to show your interest. Giving your partner time alone with his child acknowledges that you see the importance of that relationship and support it fully.
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Encourage your partner to plan activities that he and the kids enjoy together. It may involve a sporting activity or simply a trip out for ice cream. Make it clear to the kids that you are in on the planning and look forward to hearing about it when they return.
2. Don’t overstep your boundaries.
It’s important to work with your partner on establishing boundaries in your home. Early on you must determine what your role will be even if that role changes over time. However, keep in mind that whether you are a custodial or non-custodial stepmom will decidedly point you in the direction of the essentiality of your involvement. The demands placed upon a custodial stepmom are far different than those placed upon a non-custodial mom. Children that live with you full-time will naturally gravitate towards you for more of their daily needs.
Do you help create the rules? Do you dole out punishments? Do you attend parent/teacher meetings? Knowing where your input is needed and in fact, necessary, is a first step in accessing your involvement in the lives of your stepchildren. Have this discussion with your spouse, early and often, no matter whether the kids live with you full time or not.
3. Support their activities.
I think one of the most powerful bonding experiences in the stepfamily that I created was my attendance at my stepchildren’s activities. I sat on the bleacher’s for umpteen volleyball matches, including those when daughter number two was part of a traveling team. I trekked the roads with both boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. I experienced the agony of sunburn from sitting outside at four-hour golf matches. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those activities created great memories for our family.
What’s more is that the kids are proud of the beginnings of our stepfamily. When our younger daughter met her now husband a few years back, she recounted how kid activities were how her dad and I spent our early dates. However, I didn’t realize then how important those early dates were not just to my relationship building with their dad but with all three of my stepchildren.
In other words, just do it.
4. Be willing to be their friend.
“I have no intention of being my kids’ friend. I’m their parent.” Well-said. However…
Kids know what remarriage brings….another parent. Not necessarily what they may see as a real need in their lives, especially if there are already two involved parents in the picture. But no one can ever have too many friends.
And that is where a stepmom can step up to the plate.
Merriam-Webster.com defines friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” Seems simple enough. I think you build the aforementioned attachment by listening to one another, doing things together and learning about one another’s way of life. This is the perfect role for a stepmom who wants to support and protect her stepchildren while creating a new family structure. It’s also an enduring connection that can grow and take other forms as you work to create deeper understandings of each other.