Bonding With Your Stepkids

22 06 2010

Once upon a time there was a guy who had kids with somebody else. Maybe you did, too. And now that you’ve met and fallen in love, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to relate to his kids. But what if you’re not a kid person? What if you love kids but his are hostile and cold? How do you set about getting to know your stepchildren in a way that fosters positive feelings between you and the kids. Here are a few tips to help you get to know your stepchildren better than you do now.

Find Common Ground. Investigate your stepchild’s likes and dislikes and see if there is anything you both like to do. My stepkids and I love to read so we will sit in companionable silence reading on the couch. Then we discuss the books we’re reading. When I finished a young adult novel I was working on, I asked if they would be editors for me. I treasure the notes they wrote me with their comments about the book. And they still make comments about how they liked to help me.

Interview Your Stepkids. I interview people as part of my job. When I was first getting to know my stepchildren, I asked them a lot of questions. And every time they shared something with me, I made sure to reciprocate by telling them something about me. Be curious. Find out what makes them tick. Learn about what kind of human beings they are.

Back Off. When you’re new to a stepfamily situation, it is crucial that you do not come on too strong with trying to get the kids to do what you want. As a stepparent, the more you back off and let your relationship grow, the more successful you’re going to be.  Your job is to sit back and observe for a while until you can figure out your place in the family.  make it your goal to get to know the kids, to have fun with them. Let dad tell them to put their stuff away or pick up their rooms.

Spend Time Together. Spend time together one-on-one so you can build your relationship away from dad. The dynamics that happen when a family is all together shift significantly when people head off in twos. When my stepdaughters are together, for instance, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. But if I get them each alone, on a trip to the grocery store or a walk around the block with the dog, then suddenly I can have a real conversation.

Clearly Set Your Boundaries. Sometimes stepchildren feel more comfortable talking to their stepparents about sensitive topics than they do their parents. Occasionally a kid will test out a hot topic with a stepparent before they spring it on a parent. You and your spouse need to have a conversation about what things you will keep a secret for your stepchild when they ask, and what things you will not. And you need to be clear with both your stepchildren and your spouse about your feelings so no one is ever surprised.

Be Yourself. The best thing I ever did as a stepmother was have a bad day in front of my stepkids. I got the opportunity to say, “Hey guys, I’m having a crappy day, but it’s nothing you did. We all have bad days, don’t we? So I need a little space today. I’ll feel better tomorrow.” Suddenly, I became more human to them in a way that they didn’t take personally. And I got to feel like I didn’t have to be on stage all the time in my own home. Be yourself. It’s the best gift you can give your stepchildren.

Acknowledge Your Feelings. How do you build a successful stepfamily when feelings of resentment are building in your heart? Admit to yourself that you’re having a tough time. Go cry in the shower if you need to. Scream at the top of your lungs and beat on a pillow if no one is home to get some of the frustration out. Then promise to yourself that you will take one action every day to make yourself feel better. Something that will make you feel like you’re making progress.

Say ‘I Do’ To The Kids. Say “Yes” to what your stepchildren have to teach you about yourself, about your partner, and about the world.  Even when stepparenting is not the most fun job in the world, it can still teach you something. You can get something good out of it. I encourage you, as Pollyannaish as this sounds, to commit to getting something good. Say Yes. Say I Do. Say I will.

Give Experiential Gifts. This might be more difficult of your stepchild is at the age at which they want nothing to do with any adults in their family, but giving experiential gifts is a great way to bond.

Challenge

Exercise: Play Time

Make a list of fifty activities you can do with your stepkids for one-on-one time. The list should include things that cater to the personalities of both you and your stepchild. Your next assignment is to do one of the activities with a stepchild. Do it this week if you can. Or schedule it on the calendar if you have to go into next week. Examples: Plant a tree together. Go for a picnic. Go out for food your stepchild has never tried before. Head to a gallery to see work by local artists. See a play.

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