Jordan is the future stepmother of four children. She has experienced the ups and downs of building relationships with new step-children.
What It's Like to Be Part of a Mixed Family
Mixed families can be difficult. Some people manage to walk right into a family that is excited to have them around, but for most of us who enter into an existing family, the struggle to bond with each family member can be overwhelming. The majority of stepparents and stepchildren are willing to admit that they have butted heads throughout their relationship. There are boundaries that get crossed, feelings that get hurt, and sometimes misplaced anger that interferes with the relationship between the stepparent and child.
Tips for Bonding and Developing Relationships With Stepchildren
- Don't Push
- Communicate and Listen
- Find Activities to Do Together
- Talk About Yourself
- Understand That There Is No Handbook
1. Don't Push
One of the things I felt was important when the relationship between the kids and myself first began to develop, was not pushing them, in any way.
I wanted the conversations to be organic in nature. For the most part, I let the kids decide what to talk about and when to have a conversation. There shouldn't be any need to go force a conversation with a child, most of them will decide whether they want to talk to you or not. This, of course, will be different with each child depending on their ages and personalities. The younger two wanted to talk to me at every spare second they could. There was no need to prod for a conversation, they would tell me about anything and everything that they could. I learned quickly which were their favorite colors, who their friends were, what video games and super heros they liked.
The older boys still didn't need prodding, but they kept their distance at first. Being that they were teenage boys meant they tried to impress me with random antics before they wanted to talk too much. My highly energetic fourteen year old would do flying leaps off of the porch railings and race up trees to see my reaction. Of course, my heart hit my stomach the first time he did it, as I thought he was going to hurt himself, doing front flips off of a six foot railing. He found this amusing and made sure to continue these parkour practices around me frequently.
The oldest presented his own difficulties when it came to conversation. Asperger's makes social situations difficult, but Scott had already discussed with me the depth of the scenario with him. He would approach me when he felt comfortable, and his first interaction with me may include more noises than words. Having experience with children similar, I knew what to expect. So when he sat next to me near the fire in the back yard, leaned his head on my shoulder and burped, big grin on his face as he awaited my response, I promptly gave him a nice 9/10 score.
2. Communicate and Listen
Simple conversations are the baby steps in developing a healthy relationship with a child. Where do you go from there? The conversations will begin to reveal certain personality traits of each child, their hobbies, interests, what they don't like, and possibly even what might frustrate them at times. (We all felt frustrated as a child at one point or another.)
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The next priority is to actually listen to them, hear everything they say. Sometimes, you'll be listening to absolute nonsense. Kids tend to go off on random tangents about silly things that happened at school, something entertaining they saw on TV, or maybe its a video game that you know nothing about, but they want to tell you anyway.
Hear each word. The silly thing that happened at school can clue you in to certain friends and classes they appreciate. The entertaining clip they saw on TV might tell you what their favorite show is. The video games might reveal... well I still get lost on the video game conversations, but having a love of certain games means I can at least have a two way conversation on that topic occasionally.
Different topics will come up at different times though. My youngest will sometimes get frustrated with a certain situation at the other parent's home and will ask me why people argue, or let me know that he feels sad when the other parents argue in front of them. This clues me in to what he may be experiencing in the other home, and remind me that if Scott and I ever have a disagreement to take it away from the children so they don't feel stuck listening to it in both homes.
If the kids decide they feel comfortable with you and trust you enough to talk to you about things that bother them or make them uncomfortable, give them your full attention. They may be coming to you because they don't know who else to talk to, they don't know how to handle the situation, or they may be confused and be searching for answers. You do want the children to know that they are able to get your absolute full attention if they feel they need it, and you may be able to offer advice or suggestions. Sometimes, they just want to vent.
3. Find Activities to Do Together
One part of bonding is spending quality time together. This becomes important in building memories, providing opportunities to feel comfortable around each other, and opening the door for the kids to have quality time with you.
In this family, the youngest likes to color and play board games. We have often sat down together with crayons, coloring books, and blank paper, chatting endlessly as I draw pictures on request for him to color. Oftentimes, his doodles end up hanging in his room or on the fridge, and he will proudly show off his coloring job to anyone who may walk by it.
My daughter likes to go on bike rides and read books. While we don't sit down and read to each other, we do have similar tastes in books. We often recommend books back and forth to each other, afterwards discussing the characters and plotlines in depth. Bike rides provide the chance for more communication and chit-chat as we break away from the rest of our herd.
My 14-year-old really appreciates fishing. I can definitely say now that I will never be solo on a fishing expedition, as we like to compete to see who can catch more fish, or who catches the bigger fish. All there is to do in between catches is hold a conversation any how, so here we have another pass time that allows for quality time and communication.
The oldest is a little more difficult. We will play video games together, or he will ask me to come watch him play video games, as he is not athletic and definitely not a fan of the outdoors. He will come sit by me during our little backyard fires and talk, but we typically sit quietly next to each other.
4. Talk About Yourself
As vain as that might seem, the relationship will feel more natural if everyone tells stories back and forth about their past. I could tell countless amusing tales of things that happened in their family long before I ever showed up in their lives, and they like to request I retell certain stories from my past as well. This can aide in the children feeling like they really know you and who you are as a person, and removes some of the time gap in between when they were together in their original family unit, and when you entered their lives as a complete stranger.
5. Understand That There Is No Handbook
As all parents wish for at some point or another, there are no handbooks or guidelines when it comes to children. Each relationship will have its own rough patches, especially as you become more of a parental figure in their life, and deciding when that becomes appropriate is important. There should always be some level of respect maintained, as you are the adult and they are children; however, they deserve a certain level of respect themselves.
There will be times when you want to scream like a maniac (children can do that to you), but there will be times as well where you know in your heart you wouldn't give them up for anything in the world.