Relationships can be really hard work. When you deeply love the other person though and you have common goals to make the relationship work, it makes the hard work worthwhile. But what if you’re in a relationship that you didn’t necessarily choose? With someone that you don’t necessarily love or even like? Step parenting is one of the hardest relationships to get right. It’s so complicated. You have to be a parent to someone who already has two parents. You have an ex to deal with. You’ve got expectations from the child and their parents. And what if the kid just doesn’t like you? Who do you talk to for support? After all, you don’t want to appear to be taking sides.
With the percentage of relationships involving step children on the rise, it’s about time we start being open about the challenges faced by step parents, because right now, they’re just not getting the support they need. I’ve had numerous clients saying they feel as though they’re not supposed to talk about their feelings regarding their step child, as though it’s a taboo subject and don’t even know where to begin in getting the advice they so desperately need. And the more support the step parent gets, the more support the children involved get, and let’s be honest, their needs come first. But once they are, this will strengthen the relationship with you and your beloved.
Here’s a few guidelines when it come to you and your step children.
1. Remember that they’re the child and you’re the adult. There can be crazy emotions involved when it comes to you and your step kid. Things like jealousy and resentment seem more dominant than in a relationship with your own child. When you feel these feelings rear their ugly head, put your ego aside and deal with it in a mature fashion. Your partner is probably feeling really anxious about how the relationship between you and their child will go, so when they see you putting their child first, this will alleviate any stress, and they will be deeply grateful that you stepped up!
2. Make them feel loved. I’m not saying you have to love your step kids, because this doesn’t necessarily come easily for everyone. But remember, this child is going through a challenging and fearful time and could do with all the support they can get. Make them feel loved by listening to them and understanding them, compliment them when they deserve it, show your gratitude for great things they do, help them out when they need it, or even when they don’t. I’m sure your partner will be inspired to make you feel more loved when they see you making their child feel more loved.
3. Establish the relationship and set ground rules and boundaries. As you go in to this relationship you should have a discussion with your partner and the child (if they’re old enough to contribute) to establish your role in the child’s life. This will vary between families and depend heavily upon the role played by the other parent. Establish what support the child wants/needs from you, to what degree you will be involved in discipline and the things you are and aren’t willing to do for the child. This discussion should be revisited regularly and adjusted as the family evolves. I would suggest checking in with you partner casually from time to time to ask them how they think you’re going. This will show them that you’re committed to the long-term outcome that you’ve designed together.
1. Ever say a bad thing about the child’s other parent to them. Children, especially those going through such a massive change, need stability. They get this from their parents. They need to believe that their parents are good people, this makes them feel safe. So never criticise the other parent as they may start to feel insecure in their relationship with them or begin to doubt whether they can trust you. Besides, if the other parent is saying bad things about you and you just take the higher moral ground and say nothing at all, this will assure your partner that they’ve made the right decision, seeing you as someone who fixes things for you rather than someone who makes things worse.
2. Set your expectations too high. Kids are pretty switched on. They can feel your expectations and will likely withdraw from you. Instead, relax, and just allow the relationship to unfold naturally. You’ll likely discover surprisingly beautiful things. If you can trust the relationship to develop in its own time, your partner will feel more relaxed and under less pressure to push the child in ways that ensure your expectations are met.
3. Take it personally. Step parenting, undeniably, is a tough gig. But put your feet in the kid’s shoes, this is truly life-changing, self-defining stuff. There will be times, despite your best efforts where they’ll hate you. In these moments, stand strong and just continue to support and care for them. They’ll thank you for it one day. Confidence is an attractive trait. If your partner sees that you are self-assured and not phased by the behaviour of their child they will feel more connected to you, more grateful for your support and more deeply in love.
As you navigate the murky waters of step-parenthood, remember to always be honest with your partner about the way you feel and ask them for support throughout the process. The more honest you are about the way you feel the more encouragement and understanding you will receive from your partner. You’re not going to hit the nail on the head right from the start, but if you have your desired outcome in mind, trust in the process, are willing to try different strategies and keep communication open, you’ll eventually find your way. You’re brave taking on this challenge, I believe in you.
If you want to talk further about how to navigate your way through creating an extraordinary relationship with your step child, get in touch with me. I will help you identify the stresses causing friction between you, help you release any negative emotions that a standing in your way and help you devise positive strategies that will take you forwards to a rewarding future between you.