How to nurture a good relationship with your stepchildren

Being a stepparent can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be with these tips for stepmoms and stepdads.

 While no family is perfect the dynamics of a stepfamily can present unique challenges.

Overcoming difficulties with stepchildren can be one of the biggest challenges for couples. Learning a few tips for stepmoms and stepdads can help you overcome difficulties with stepchildren, and with your new partner in respect to their children.

End the competition

The first tip is simple but hard: don’t allow yourself to be lured into competing with your partner’s children. We all know how manipulative kids can be when things aren’t going their way.  Children living in stepfamily dynamics quickly discover how to push their stepparent’s buttons too – how to manipulate, interfere and even sabotage relationships. Competition puts you and the children on the same level, in the same category, using the same techniques. Refuse to compete with your stepchild(ren).

Don’t try to become their mother or father

There is no path to overcoming difficulties with stepchildren, including trying to take the status of “mom or dad” by force or charm.  Even if your stepchildren have no other mother or father, and have never known another parent, children are sensitive to their own right to recognise the utter uniqueness of their bond with their biological parents.

Create a relationship of mutual respect

Instead of seeking love, start by creating a relationship of respect: yours for them, their relationship with their biological parents, their previous history without you, and their discomfort at the new demands a relationship they did not choose places on them.

Leave the discipline to the biological parent

It’s a good idea to set up a list of house rules and consequences together, but let the biological parent lead the discussion with the child. Establish the consequences that will follow certain behaviours, and clarify that this is the case even if the biological parent isn’t home. That way, if you do have to discipline, it’s something the child already knows will happen. As you build trust with the child, you will also gain more authority.

Treat all children equally

Treat your stepchildren like they belong. That means they are entitled to their own personal space and time to themselves. It also means they have the same privileges as your own biological children. Always treat your stepchildren with fairness and equality.

Work with your spouse

Your partner’s relationship with their own children is not the same as your partner’s relationship with you. In this situation, rules are actually a good place to start.  With time the boundaries may not need to be so intense, but until you have all found your way to being a true new family, some discipline is good for all of you. Remember, overcoming difficulties with stepchildren is a process, not a magic trick!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help in dealing with stepchildren: from your spouse and from professional family therapists. Finding a stable balance point in your role as a stepmother or stepfather requires skills you have never had to develop before. There is no shame in looking for some support while you learn the ropes.