Build a Bridge to Stepkids
Sometimes it takes a while for children to warm up to new stepparents.
Q: I'm a newly married stepmom. I have to admit, my husband and I jumped into this pretty quickly, only knowing each other a little under a year before getting married. Our marriage is solid, but his children are just not warming up to me. I knew it would take time, but we just don't seem to be making any progress. Help!
A: One of the reasons new stepparents are such a touchy subject in blended families is because a stranger, or strangers, have entered into the family and, while the children's parent is comfortable with this new adult, the children have no reference point. They did not choose this new adult in their lives. They've been conditioned in our society to not trust strangers, to be wary, and to create barriers when connecting with others outside their immediate family.
Children determine who is safe and who isn't by seeing how their parents respond to strangers that enter their lives. This method of learning discernment is shattered when parents divorce. Suddenly someone who was good to live with is no longer held in the same position. Parents fall in love again, add someone new to the mix, and expect their children to embrace them as their new parent. The children want to believe that this new person is safe, but they need to determine this for themselves.
As a stepparent, it is critical that you do not expect or demand immediate respect and affection from your stepchildren. When stepparents pick up on the resistance of their stepchildren, they often take it personally and react by getting angry and frustrated; by withdrawing and only minimally interacting with the children; or by giving the children everything they want in order to win their love, acceptance, and approval.
New strategy: Get curious
There is another option that seems to have the most lasting, positive effect for stepparents and stepchildren. Try accepting your stepchildren as they are. Be genuinely curious about them and inquire about what's going on in their lives.
If you reach out and are met with a cold shoulder, address it from a place of curiosity rather than from a hurt or defensive position.
The beauty of this strategy is that, by not reacting to the responses of your stepchildren, you give them nothing to fight against. By meeting them with love, compassion, curiosity, and empathy, you connect with them and whatever they are wrestling with at the moment. The key is to not take their behaviors, reactions, or responses personally. Simple concept, yet not easy to do.
Let your emotional reactions be a reminder to not take their words personally, and to get curious about who they are and what they are feeling. By the way, this works well in your relationship with your partner or spouse, too!
— Emily Bouchard