Holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day can be difficult for those who are the new spouse of a divorced parent. Let’s talk for a moment about the aspect of divorce I think of as the “unsung hero” category (not all heroes wear capes, and not all of these folks are heroes). I’m talking about stepparents. Maybe it’s the Disneyfication or the horror stories definitely founded in reality, but stepparents quite possibly have the most difficult job--you can argue for this at any rate. There are those stepparents who fill in for the other parent better than the biological mother or father, but never earn the title of “mom” or “dad’; they usually just go by their first name. There are stepparents who step into the role full of eagerness to love and protect, but they find resentment and aggression. How can a person functioning in this role encourage a relationship with the child in a healthy manner? What factors help or hurt this development?
Your stepchild or stepchildren will trust you and your motives if you are supportive. Remember, your support doesn’t just apply to them. Children watch how you treat their parent, and if they see that you are supportive and trustworthy of their mother or father, then they are more likely to willingly develop a friendship with you. Another more difficult aspect is supporting the other parent. Obviously, there are circumstances where the other parent does not warrant much support and protecting the child is the top priority, however, if the child sees your support of both parents, he or she will respect and trust you.
This sounds simple, but with any unknown territory we develop expectations. Evaluate your expectations and decide whether or not they are unrealistic. Unrealistic expectations will set you up for a host of emotions you don’t need to deal with when trying to develop a relationship with your step children.
The Idea of Family
One article I read amongst the myriad of articles I read for this blog stated that your stepchild needs to have a feeling of kinship or family towards you. Building trust, leaving discipline to the biological parent, showing support and empathy, communicating and encouraging communication, all help develop this bond--which encourages the feeling of family.
Don’t give up on your stepchild. Losing what was your family shakes your security, even as an adult. Be there for the child, but remember these three things: be supportive, have realistic expectations, and promote a family atmosphere. It’s about to get better, and we’re here to help!