Improve Relationships with Step-Children
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According to Pew research study (2010), approximately 48% of American adults report having at least one step-parent, with 30% of those adults saying that they have at least one step-sibling or half-sibling (National Stepfamily Resource Center, 2015).
Are you having a problem connecting with your step-child? If so, you are not alone. In fact, entering into a blended family can be stressful for anyone, but especially for a child, who recently experienced a divorce. It is important to remember that your step-child has been “wounded.” In other words, his or her life has been turned upside down. The family the child wanted, with both parents, is now a non-option. Your step-child may not know how to feel, especially if he or she is a teen. Your step-child may also be swimming in a sea of emotions (i.e. anger, sadness, confusion, annoyance, resentment, and/or confusion). Therefore, if you and your step-child are not “meshing” the way you had hoped, do not despair, help is on the way. If you are looking for ways to improve your relationship with your step-child, you have come to the right place. This article will help get your step-parent-child relationship on the right path.
Listed below are suggestions that can help improve your relationship with a step-child:
If you want to improve your relationship with your step-child, it is important that you understand that you are not his or her parent. In other words, your step-child has no obligation to you, even if you live together. He or she also does not have to obey you. Don’t get me wrong your step-child should respect you, but ultimately you are not his or her mother or father, therefore the responsibility to enforce rules, and dole out punishments falls to the child’s biological parents – not you. However, if you are kind to your step-child, and you make him or her feel loved, respected, and valued, he or she will most likely soften towards you – over time. Do not rush your step-child to accept and love you, because if you do you may get your feelings hurt. Rather, give him or her time and space to process your place in his or her life. If your step-child feels that you genuinely care for him or her, he or she will respect and obey you.
Even if your step-child is a “hellion,” it is imperative that you be understanding towards him or her, especially if you want to improve your relationship. Keep in mind that your step-child may be struggling with the divorce, and the new living arrangement. If your step-child is a teen, he or she may also be experiencing “teenage angst.” So, try to give your step-child the benefit of the doubt – even when he or she is “acting out.” Listen to your step-child when he or she wants to talk, but do not offer advice, unless he or she asks for it. Sometimes people, especially children, want someone to listen, without providing feedback. Be that person for him or her. More specifically, just be the loving step-parent you were meant to be, and show some empathy for this child, who recently had his or her life blown to smithereens.
If you want to improve your relationship with your step-child be more complimentary. In other words, praise your step-child when he or she accomplishes his or her goals and/or “betters” himself or herself. For instance, if your step-child makes an “A” on a hard biology test, praise him or her by saying, “Great job Ashley! You are so smart. I wish I made grades like that when I was your age.” Or, if your step-child boldly changes his or her appearance (i.e. colors his or her hair), compliment him or her by saying, “Wow Sam! That color really brings out your eyes.”
The key is to uplift your step-child, not drag him or her down with negativity (i.e. blame, judgment, bullying, and/or criticism). Moreover, always behave positively around your spouse. Compliment your spouse in front of your step-child, as much as possible. If he or she sees that you have a loving marriage, he or she will be more apt to soften towards you. Furthermore, resist arguing and/or disagreeing in front of your step-child. If you have issues in your marriage – keep them behind closed doors.
I know this may sound strange, but if you want to improve your relationship with your step-child, you will need to refrain from disciplining him or her. In other words, leave the discipline up to the biological parents. If your step-child does something to upset, frighten, or injure you, share that information with his or her parent (your spouse), and let him or her, along with the child’s other birth parent, decide how to punish him or her. It is not your place to distribute punishments. You are not your step-child biological parent. Note: Even if your spouse tells you that it is ok to punish the child – don’t do it! Why? Well, because although your spouse tells you to punish the child, he or she will secretly resent you for disciplining his or her child. And, as a result, it may cause friction in your marriage, which is not good for you or your step-child.
Don’t Force It
If you want to improve your relationship with your step-child, do not force a relationship. In other words, let him or her come to you. Just tell your step-child that you are always available, if he or she should want to talk. Your step-child will come to you – when he or she is ready, and not a moment before. So, regardless of how badly you may want to connect with your step-child, you will need to wait until the time is right for both of you.
Remember it is Only Temporary
If you want to improve your relationship with your step-child, remember that the contention is only temporary. In other words, your step-child will eventually grow up, and leave the home. And, once this happens, your relationship will most likely naturally improve – that is if you have been kind and respectful to your step-child throughout the years. Once your step-child leaves the home you will most likely miss him or her, so use the time you have together wisely. Yes, once your step-child leaves the home, you will have your spouse all to yourself, however, you will also feel the emptiness that your step-child left in his or her wake. So, do everything in your power to improve your relationship with him or her now, and if you cannot resolve your issues, seek family counseling.
- Dr. R. Y. Langham
Kemp, G., Segal, J. & Robinson, L. (2015). Step-parenting and blended families. Help Guide. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/step-parenting-blended-families.htm
Parents. (2015). Blended families. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/parenting/divorce/blended-families/
National Stepfamily Resource Center. (2015). Stepfamily fact sheet. Retrieved from http://www.stepfamilies.info/stepfamily-fact-sheet.php