How to Successfully Bond with Your Step Child
According to The Step Family Foundation (2016), approximately 50% of children, under the age of 13, live with one biological parent and his or her current partner.
It is not always easy to enter into a relationship with someone, who already has a child. Why? Well, because sometimes, especially if the other parent plays a significant role in the child’s life, parenting conflicts and role confusion can occur. In fact, upon first entering a new family, you may not know how to properly navigate through the world of being a step-parent. In addition, you may not know what is considered acceptable behavior for a step-parent, when it comes to disciplining the child or making decisions for him or her. Children, unfortunately, do not come with instructions, whether you are the parent or the step–parent. So, it is ok to feel a bit “out of sorts” when it comes to successfully bonding with your step child.
The most important thing to remember when trying to forge a long-lasting relationship with your partner’s child is that he or she is also entering into a new family. In fact, his or her whole world has changed. Your step child has lost the stability of having both parents in the home. Moreover, unless you have been in that child’s life a long time (i.e. years), you are virtually a stranger to him or her – an alien. So, what do you do to gain the love and trust of your new child? Well, first of all you must become friends, and as you know building a real friendship takes time – in some cases a lot of time. So, the keys to successfully bonding with your step child are patience and understanding. If you take your time and allow the child to get to know you as a person, then friend, then step-parent, you will be blessed with a loving relationship with him or her.
But, if you rush the process or demand love, trust, and loyalty, you will inevitably push that child away forever. So, in other words, tread lightly, my friend. Once you have become friends with your step child, you will reap the benefits of your effort. If all goes well, you will start to see your partner’s child as your own. You will also have an opportunity to help shape who this child will become when he or she grows up. To sum it up, you will have a tremendous amount of influence over the child, even though you are not his or her biological parent. So, how should I handle disciplining the child, making decisions for him or her, and/or dealing with the other biological parent? Well, that can be tricky; however, I have some valuable suggestions for you that can smooth the way for a more successful co-parenting environment. Listed below are tips on how you can successfully bond with your step child.
Tips on how to successfully bond with your step child:
Take Turtle Steps
Wait! What? In other words, take things slowly. You are not going to successfully bond with a hesitant child, if you demand love, attention, respect, and loyalty from him or her. You have to let those things develop over time. As mentioned above, if you rush your step child, he or she will rebel and shun you, which defeats the purpose. So, the best thing you can do is get to know the child and let him or her make the moves. In other words, take your cues from your step child. For example, ask him or her about his interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes, and do not take it personally if at first he or she snubs you.
Keep trying to get to know the child, but if he or she acts hostile to you when you ask him or her questions, back off and try again in a day or so. It is important to show your step child that you are actually interested and not simply “faking it” to win him or her over. Children can spot a “fake” a mile away. If the child simply won’t talk to you at all, ask your partner what the child’s interests and hobbies are, and then learn about them or start doing them as well. You and the child need to find something that you have in common – a bridge – that will bring you closer together.
Define Your Step-Parent Role with Your Spouse
In order to successfully bond with your step child, you will need to first sit down with your spouse and talk about his expectations. What does he think your role should be with your step child – friend, secondary parent, mentor, etc.? How does he feel about you disciplining your step child – spankings, time-out, removal of privileges, etc.? P.S. Don’t get worked up, if your partner tells you that he does not want you to discipline your step child. Why? Well, because you must remember that in most cases the child has two biological parents that are in his or her life, therefore, to avoid getting you into hot water with the other parent, your spouse may decide to discipline the child himself or herself. That way your hands are clean, and if the other parent disagrees with something, he or she is forced to address it with your spouse – not you.
So, what should I do in those cases where the child is misbehaving? Notify your spouse and let him or her take over. However, if you sit down with your spouse and he or she says that it is ok for you to discipline your step child, tread lightly, and remember that he or she also has another parent, who may object to how you discipline your step child. More specifically, if you spank a child, and the other parent feels that you abused him or her, then it could affect the custody arrangement between your spouse and the child’s other parent. So, if you do get permission to discipline the child, please be mindful of your actions. Lastly, never go behind the back of your spouse. In other words, if you plan to do something with your step child, it is probably best you ask permission first or at least notify your spouse before you do it. You may believe that you are doing something good for the child, but your spouse and the child’s other parent may feel that you are trying to keep them in the dark or take control of their child.
Create New Family Traditions
One great way to successfully bond with your step child is to create new family traditions. For instance, if you and your spouse get the child every Friday night, then make that day “Pizza and Movie Night” or “Mexican Fiesta Night.” And, on Saturday mornings, make the child’s favorite breakfast, i.e. banana pancakes, blueberry waffles, omelets, etc. Make sure you get the child’s input on any “traditions” that you form. Children like to feel important and valued. In addition, to food-themed nights and breakfasts, other activities that you can do with your step child include: cooking, bike riding, doing crafts, playing board games, shopping, or watching sitcoms and movies together on the couch. Make sure you include your spouse sometimes – you want your step child to feel as if you are a solid, happy family unit. The most important thing is to create memories and have fun together. Stay away from “traditional holidays” because more than likely the child already has special memories for those holidays (with his or biological parents), therefore, make up your own holidays (i.e. “Beginning of Spring” holiday) and traditions.
Never Use the Child as a Messenger
The worst thing you can do if you want to bond with your step child is to send messages to the other parent. Why? Well, because it puts the child in an impossible situation. No child wants to be a messenger between his parents, so just don’t do that to him or her. Keep the child out of any disagreements between your spouse and his or her other parent. Don’t talk about it – don’t even hint about any trouble. Your goal is to make your step child feel safe and secure, even when his or her parents are fighting. You must be a beacon of light during difficult times – someone the child can trust and talk to. If you notice your spouse using the child as a messenger, speak up. Explain to him or her how it is hurting the child, and encourage him or her to keep conflicts away from the child.
Also, do not degrade, belittle, or criticize the other parent in front of your step child. Remember, he or she loves his or her parents – both of them, so watch what you say and how you say it when you are in his or her presence. Same goes for your spouse. If you notice him or her saying negative things about the other parent, talk to him or her about it. Lastly, allow the negative things that the other parent says about you to roll off your back. Do not respond back with hate or negativity. Do not show anger in front of the child. Simply say, “I’m sorry your parent feels that way. I have nothing bad to say about him or her.” And, then let it go. You don’t want to look bad in front of your step child. You want to come across as a mature adult.
Lyness, D. (2013). Becoming a stepparent. Kids Health. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/stepparent.html#
The Step Family Foundation. (2016). Step family statistics. Retrieved from http://www.stepfamily.org/stepfamily-statistics.html