Okay, I have been at this step-parenting thing for a little while now and there’s a few points which I have learned are extremely important. Taking in to account that relationships have an ever evolving nature, the following steps have helped my relationship with my step children to progress at a rate which they are comfortable with and if I might add, have profoundly deepened the love that I have for them.
- Don’t try to be the “cool parent“. During school pick ups I used to feel obligated to start conversation with the kids “so how was your day?” “what did you learn?” “what did you do?” And eventually the answers became “okay”, “stuff”, or “today I breathed”. Who would want to endure that sort of dead end conversation? The kids didn’t want to talk, so I stopped asking questions. If they wanted to talk to me they had to open their mouths, which meant that I was no longer the alien chauffeur prying into their daily lives. Lets face it, regardless of how things started off they already had their so-called “allegiances”, I was “the enemy”, and by engaging in any kind of quality conversation they were in effect “betraying confidences”. And trust me, they might only be school aged children but these are certainly tenets which they understand and employ on a regular basis. At least they used to, until I gave them the opportunity to progress at a rate they were comfortable with.
- Keep your lips sealed. If they are going to hear any negativity let them hear it from somebody else, more often than not people will hold opinions about their parental situation, and being children – its not their fault that they may take something out of context or not know “the full story…” From having experienced this as a child myself I know first hand how horrible this can make a child feel, and don’t get me started on the copious amounts of therapy required to help me grow from this. As a kid I used to hear “your father is such a bad man” from various individuals but I understood it as “you come from him so you are bad too”, especially when a statement of this caliber was coupled in anger or frustration with “you’re just like your father!” It doesn’t mean that that was the intention of the person who shared their opinion with me regardless of however inappropriate, the difference is in how the child interprets it. Either way, if you have anything negative to say, do not under any circumstances think it is appropriate to vent to the child, or even while they are within ear shot. Just. Don’t. Do. It.
- Encourage “date night” with your spouse / partner. When my husband first started taking the kids on “daddy-daughter dates” or “father-son dates” they would stare at him awkwardly and shy away from his touch. It was seriously odd to observe! They would joke about how Dad was weird for wanting to take them on a “date”, as if it were “gross” (their words, not mine) and carry on as if they were in the school playground. Did that stop my husband? Thankfully he is self-confessed “socially inept” and therefore continues on regardless of how open their awkward social cues may be, I love that about him. Then a week ago a miracle happened. After picking them up on hand over day my step son counted excitedly “four more days till father-son date!” Turns out he absolutely loves and looks forward to spending his one on one time with his Daddy, for example he heard that they were going to the park and said “I’m going to pack all my footballs!” It’s beautiful to see how their relationship has improved, and will continue to improve as they spend quality time with their Daddy.
- Love them, openly and unconditionally. This does not mean that you will put up with any and all abuse which may very likely come your way, it simply means that when they say something in anger that you try not to take it personally. Try to see things from their perspective, they are effected by the changes that have taken place as well, and more often than not they did not ask for their home life to change dramatically. Children aren’t equipped with the skills necessary to communicate the complex thoughts and emotions swirling around inside them, many adults aren’t either. So give them a chance, they deserve to be loved.
- Pray for them. Sometimes the strength or humility required to endure the many facets of step-parent hood is something next to divine (or that’s what I’ve heard). I find that by praying for the children that I become more genuinely concerned with their well being and my love for them grows. Let us remember that the strength that they require to be able to allow another adult in to their already fragmented lives requires something next to divine as well. By praying for your step children with real intent you may not always find that they change according to your wishes, but you certainly change: you become more open to love when once love may have been the furthest thing on your mind, you become more open to forgiveness and among other things you become more able to be the kind of person that they need in their lives.